It was the Last Roundup for Pat McCrory, a governor with a blank slate of a record who was ignored and disrespected even by his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly for his four years in office. But the governor had one final chance to redeem his pride and demonstrate strength and statesmanship.
In signing two bills that outrageously take away appointive powers and other authority that resides in the governor’s office, McCrory rolled over. And in the process, the more he kept trying to explain himself, the worse he looked.
The bills, courtesy of the GOP leaders in the General Assembly, shift some appointive power away from the governor’s office, and require that Gov.-elect Roy Cooper’s Cabinet appointees be approved by the Senate. The state superintendent of public instruction, now to be 33-year-old Republican Mark Johnson, will have new powers over public education. And Cooper will have fewer than one-third the patronage appointments McCrory had.
This disgraceful overreach by GOP lawmakers is for one reason: Cooper is a Democrat, and he is a strong leader who upended McCrory’s re-election in a year when Republicans got the presidency and voters returned U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, whose record is lackluster, to Congress for a third term. McCrory was the sore thumb among Republicans, and legislative leaders fear Cooper’s political skills. So with the excuse that Democrats once took powers from Republican leaders — true, but not on this scale — they proceeded to walk all over the separation of powers principle of democratic government.
Ironically, of course, this governor once got help from former Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican, and former Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, to defend the powers of the governor. McCrory successfully battled legislative leaders over the constitutionality of lawmakers’ creation of some independent commissions. Both Martin and Hunt agreed the maneuvers were illegal.
Even as he signed off on the bills curbing Cooper’s rightful authority, McCrory seemed to want it both ways. He said, for example, that he thought the provisions to make Cooper’s Cabinet go through the Senate was “wrong and short-sighted.” He said the issue needed to be resolved by the legislature and the governor-elect, as if that would be remotely possible. And then he signed the bills anyway.
The governor, as if to show his strength, also tried to take credit for stopping Republican lawmakers from “packing” the state Supreme Court with two additional judges to counter the Democratic majority that will exist after the swearing in of Mike Morgan to replace Republican Bob Edmunds. There are two problems with the governor’s claim: the head of the state Republican Party ridiculed the media for reporting the possible move to pack the court because the issue was non-existent, and GOP leaders themselves put down the story. McCrory just gave them up and proved that there was indeed talk of such a move.
McCrory could have vetoed the bills, whereupon he would have been overridden. But at least he would have made a stand for the separation of powers to protect the authority of his successors. But once again and for a final time, the governor failed a test of leadership.