OK, who are you and what have you done with Gov. Pat McCrory? There’s the question even some of the governor’s political allies are asking in the wake of two blockbuster vetoes within days of each other. These were no small decisions on the part of a governor who previously had vetoed only two bills total, both of them relatively minor and both overridden.
In the same week, the Republican governor twice defied the leaders of his majority party in the General Assembly and pulled out the veto stamp, first on a terrible bill that would have allowed the state’s magistrates and registers of deeds to opt out of helping people of the same sex marry. The bill was likely unconstitutional, given that gay marriage is legal in North Carolina. The U.S. Supreme Court is about to make the definitive ruling on its constitutionality.
But it was championed by the state Senate’s hard-right president pro tem, Sen. Phil Berger of Eden, and by House Speaker Tim Moore. For McCrory to break away and bring common sense to the debate – he said no public official should be allowed to ignore a constitutional oath of office – was significant.
Then the governor vetoed the “ag-gag” bill, an anti-worker, anti-consumer measure that would have made it more difficult for whistle-blowers to speak up if they found their employers doing things outside the bounds of safety. One example would be a chicken plant worker seeing unsanitary conditions and trying to alert authorities about it.
The bill would have put whistle-blowers in peril of stiff financial penalties. It was a ridiculous maneuver under the guise of being “pro business,” which this GOP-run General Assembly seems to think requires being “anti-consumer.”
On Friday, the governor vetoed the bill. His statement read: “This bill is intended to address a valid concern of our state’s businesses – how to discourage those bad actors who seek employment with the intent to engage in corporate espionage or act as an undercover investigator. This practice is unethical and unfair to employers, and is a particular problem for our agricultural industry. It needs to be stopped.
“While I support the purpose of this bill, I believe it does not adequately protect or give clear guidance to honest employees who uncover criminal activity. I am concerned that subjecting these employees to potential civil penalties will create an environment that discourages them from reporting illegal activities.”
The governor most certainly will catch some heat from legislative leaders, and his action was a bit of a surprise. McCrory’s last two vetoes were just about ignored by GOP lawmakers who have at times treated him more like an inconvenience than as the statewide-elected head of the executive branch of government. Some have even acted annoyed that the governor would dare to speak up.
It’s hard to figure why the governor is asserting himself, but it’s refreshing. Perhaps he’s trying to move to the center before he seeks re-election in 2016. Or maybe he has polls demonstrating the public is getting weary of the right-wing politics practiced by legislative leaders. That type of political maneuvering works for a while, taking advantage of constituents’ anger and frustration, but it wears off eventually.
The people will respect the governor more for standing up to the bullies in the legislature instead of caving in to them.