Gov. Pat McCrory wrapped up his 4-year term Saturday with a 15-minute video message in which he touted his administration’s accomplishments and slammed House Bill 2 opponents, the ACC’s boycott of North Carolina and the news media.
Saturday was McCrory’s final day in office after losing his re-election bid to Democrat Roy Cooper. Cooper was sworn in shortly after the new year begins at midnight – the earliest time he can legally take the oath of office.
N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin administered the oath to Cooper in a private ceremony at the state Capitol building. Cooper’s formal inauguration won’t take place until Jan. 7, and he’s the first governor in recent memory to opt for a midnight swearing-in. McCrory was also sworn in prior to his inauguration, but he took charge on Jan. 5, 2013, in a private ceremony.
Cooper takes over before he’s named a single cabinet secretary. So far, Cooper has announced only three hires for his administration – his chief of staff, senior adviser and legislative liaison. Several dozen McCrory administration officials, including his cabinet secretaries, have received notices that their jobs end Saturday.
Cooper plans to hit the ground running. “Gov. Cooper plans to announce key staff hires and cabinet appointments in the coming days, and has asked some experienced leaders to serve as interim agency heads until the cabinet secretaries take office,” spokeswoman Megan Jacobs said Saturday.
Jacobs did not respond to a request seeking the names of the interim cabinet agency leaders. By contrast, McCrory had named his entire cabinet before he took office in 2013.
McCrory made no public appearances in his final days as governor, but he did announce a few last-minute appointments of top aides to state board positions.
On Friday evening, he appointed chief of staff Thomas Stith to the board of the Golden LEAF Foundation, which provides economic development assistance to rural areas of the state. He gave his general counsel, Bob Stephens, a seat on the State Board of Community Colleges.
On Saturday morning, he posted a YouTube video in which he boasted that his “accomplishments are greater than any administration during the past 25 years, and it wasn’t because of me, it was because of the team I put together around me.”
As examples, he pointed to the $2 billion “Connect NC” bond package that will fund higher education projects, state parks and other infrastructure; efforts to eliminate cost overruns in the state’s Medicaid budget; and economic development efforts that helped the state unemployment rate to drop. He lamented that “you don’t read about this on the front page of the Raleigh or Charlotte newspapers.”
But McCrory also took parting shots at his critics, particularly those who opposed him over House Bill 2, the controversial LGBT law that struck down local nondiscrimination ordinances and requires transgender people in government facilities to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificates.
He said HB2 likely played a major role in his election defeat, and he blamed the Charlotte City Council – which passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that prompted HB2 – as well as the LGBT advocacy groups that backed economic boycotts of the state. He called it a “manufactured crisis.”
“I wish I would have been successful in convincing Charlotte not to start this masquerade of an issue, that no doubt had an impact on my future election and on North Carolina in a very unfair way,” he says in the video, adding that he was “unsuccessful in convincing the legislature maybe not to overreact.”
McCrory also blasted the ACC for moving its football championship game from Charlotte to Orlando in November, part of the sports conference’s opposition to HB2.
“I thought it was a travesty, and by the way, they didn’t do a good job of filling up the seats in Orlando,” he said. “They were giving away tickets. The ACC had no problem having three football games shamelessly during the hurricane here in Raleigh, which they shouldn’t have done, but they canceled a game for a social issue.”
Disaster response: McCrory said the “toughest challenges” of his tenure were natural disasters such as winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires. “The stress during those times was very, very high because it was a prolonged natural disaster over a two-week period,” he said, referring to the floods from Hurricane Matthew. “And sadly, we got very, very good at dealing with it.”
Election complaints: While he didn’t mention it in his farewell video, McCrory discussed his campaign’s concerns about possible voter fraud in the November election in an interview with Time Warner Cable News. It was one of several final interviews McCrory gave as governor, although he did not respond to interview requests from The News & Observer.
McCrory said his “main suspicions” involved Durham County, where about 90,000 votes weren’t added to the statewide count until nearly midnight on election night. McCrory’s campaign called for a recount there that didn’t didn’t change the outcome. McCrory conceded the election to Cooper on Dec. 5 as the recount wrapped up.
“I personally don’t think it was about the machines” used to count votes in Durham, McCrory told the cable TV news station. “I think where the real impact was was the Supreme Court decision not allowing us to have voter ID, which allowed a lot of college students who live out of state to vote.”
Voter ID was not part of the McCrory campaign’s election challenges. Before a federal court struck down the voter ID law, voters weren’t allowed to use photo IDs issued by other states, which would have made it more difficult for some college students to vote here. Durham County is home to Duke University and N.C. Central University.
Curbs to Cooper’s power: McCrory downplayed the legislature’s efforts to strip appointment powers from Cooper, which he signed after a special session. He said he prevented legislators from going further.
“The media greatly exaggerated the powers being taken away from Roy Cooper,” McCrory said in the interview. “If anything, many of us stopped the major powers being taken away from the next governor. I worked behind the scenes a great deal making sure the Department of Commerce wasn’t moved, the Department of Public Safety wasn’t moved, the Supreme Court wasn’t packed.”
He said he still opposes a new requirement that cabinet appointees be confirmed by the state Senate. Cooper’s team has said the requirement has made some candidates reluctant to take the jobs.
“That’s going to be a pain for the legislature and for Roy Cooper, and I don’t think it’s right,” McCrory said.
What’s next for McCrory: McCrory says in his farewell video that he’s not sure what he’ll do next, but he’s considering opportunities in government and in the private sector.
He declined to answer a question from Time Warner Cable News about whether President-elect Donald Trump offered him a job when the two recently met at Trump Tower in New York. And McCrory said he’s considering “whether or not someday I want to run for governor again, or another office.”
For now though, McCrory said he’s heading back to his Charlotte home to “revisit my dog and see if he remembers me.”