Jim Jenkins

The perils for ‘Independent Pat’

Who are you, pal, and what have you done with Pat McCrory?

Yes, there’s the question some on Jones Street, the address of your North Carolina General Assembly, are asking these days. They’d like to inquire it of the bespectacled, dark-haired fellow with the pleasant smile currently in occupancy of the big governor’s house on Blount Street.

See, when affable Pat McCrory was elected governor in 2012, the Jones Street Gang thought he would cut a few ribbons and sign off on their right-wing revolution and mind the gubernatorial store, which they figured consisted mostly of looking good in a suit and praising the Republican legislature and going on TV in a windbreaker during a hurricane threat.

Now they worried a little when Gov. McCrory vetoed a couple of their bills, but they promptly overrode him and showed him back to his place. And when he and his wife, Ann, backed a bill regulating puppy mills, they were repudiated by lawmakers, one of whom seemed to say puppies were none of the governor’s business.

Who knows? Maybe that did it, because now ... now, something has happened.

Puny Pat of late has been Pumped Up Pat.

He’s come out swinging on historic tax credits, as they’re, in shorthand, basically tax incentives for people who restore historic buildings in communities large and small and make something of them. The General Assembly did away with them.

And he’s out and out repudiated a proposal in the legislature to redistribute sales tax revenues from cities and hand some of them over to rural counties, something that would cost cities millions of dollars.

Then, McCrory criticized the notion of North Carolina lawmakers passing one of these Indiana-like “religious freedom” bills which could make it legal for merchants and others to discriminate against gay and lesbian people if they said their religious beliefs were against homosexuality.

Ladies and gentleman, raise the curtain. Independent Pat now is center stage.

Watch out for the tomatoes, governor. There aren’t going to be any roses and curtain calls cheered on from the Legislative Building, where your fellow Republicans take no prisoners and tolerate no dissent.

Down yonder, they don’t like this independent streak, and some rumors are flying. For example, word is you’re fixing to show up at a Moral Monday protest walking between the Rev. William Barber and Hillary Clinton, while holding a puppy on a leash.

If Gov. McCrory has decided that there’s no point in kowtowing any more to the right-wing revolutionaries now in charge of the General Assembly, he’s got it right. While those in temporary residence in the legislature may have a high opinion of their status, all of them were elected in districts and are little known beyond those boundaries.

But the governor won statewide, and his pulpit comes with plenty of natural amplification. If the powers-that-be in the state House and Senate are going to continue to ignore him, he might as well break out and say what he thinks and take the consequences.

Now of course there’s going to be retribution for the governor, as Republican leaders have amply demonstrated they’re into payback.

We hear, for example, that GOP kingpin Phil Berger, president pro tem of the state Senate, is planning legislation to strip the governor’s office of all appointive power, all office space in the State Capitol and elsewhere, and move the official office to a Costco card table near the memorial to the Confederate dead on the Capitol grounds.

And Berger may be moving to rearrange the governor’s security detail. Rather than the usual black SUVs, Gov. McCrory will receive a Schwinn Meridian bicycle for his personal use, which has two wheels on the back and a basket. We understand a Berger aide was overheard saying, “He can use the basket ... to carry his puppy.”

Whoa. That’s right, things are about to get rougher between the newly independent governor and his fellow Republicans. It was Ronald Reagan who said, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” but these days on Jones Street Reagan’s looking more and more like a Roosevelt Democrat. And McCrory actually referred to him to back his position favoring historic tax credits.

Is it possible, friends, that Gov. McCrory is himself in the middle of an historic transformation of his own? That he has returned to the counsel of a man he once called a “hero” and a “mentor,” none other than four-term Gov. Jim Hunt?

Stand by, Democrats. You may have a new man in the 2016 primary.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com