RALEIGH — After November 2012, when Pat McCrory was elected North Carolina’s first Republican governor since 1992 and voters re-elected a GOP majority in both legislative chambers for the first time since the 1860s, displaced Democrats, liberal editorialists, and left-wing activists began pursuing a strategy as transparent as glass.
Their goal has been to pit McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Senate leader Phil Berger against each other. Their tactics have included elevating relatively minor disagreements between House and Senate, or between the legislative and executive branches, into major conflagrations that supposedly threaten the survival of conservative governance in Raleigh.
In this case, subtlety might have served critics better. The Republicans know precisely what the Left is up to. They’re not falling for it.
To be sure, there are some policy disagreements. Two initiatives from the first year of the McCrory administration, reforming Medicaid and privatizing economic-development programs, have yet to make much progress in the General Assembly. The 2014-15 budget senators passed last week makes it clear they want more cost savings in Medicaid than the governor’s plan, centered on accountable care organizations, is capable of generating. On job recruitment, lawmakers in both chambers want to ensure that the proposed nonprofit is sufficiently transparent and free from conflicts of interest.
On the budget itself, the Senate offers much-larger average pay raises to teachers than McCrory’s proposal did, an average of 11 percent for the 2014-15 school year. The Senate is also more generous to the University of North Carolina system while spending hundreds of millions of dollars less than the governor proposed on Medicaid, non-teacher positions in the public schools, and a number of other programs.
These are, however, debates within a general framework of conservative reform in North Carolina, not about whether that framework is the correct one. On teacher pay, for example, the Senate plan and the governor’s plan aren’t diametrically opposed. With some adjustments, they can be complementary — offering larger average raises than McCrory initially proposed, while spending more dollars over time on performance pay and other alternatives to the current, flawed salary schedule.
Keep in mind that all three teams — the Senate, the House, and the McCrory administration — have cooperated far more than they have competed. Their accomplishments have included pro-growth tax reform, sweeping regulatory reforms, a major rewrite of the state’s transportation-funding formula, a new approach to unemployment insurance, expanded choice and competition in education, and a pathway to exploration of North Carolina’s potential energy reserves.
Legislators have, in other words, enacted major legislation on nearly every issue they campaigned on in 2010 and 2012. And McCrory has signed major legislation on nearly every agenda item he listed at the start of his administration.
North Carolina’s liberal organizations and editorial pages aren’t upset because McCrory, Tillis, Berger, and other Republican leaders are too divided by disagreements to be effective. On the contrary, the Left is upset because McCrory, Tillis, Berger, and other Republican leaders have, in fact, been very effective — reflecting their fundamental agreement on most of North Carolina’s key issues.
The differences among them lie primarily in the pace and structure of conservative reform. Only if your knowledge of conservative ideas comes from watching tirades on MSNBC and swapping conspiracy theories on the Internet would you be surprised that conservatives often disagree on the details of policy implementation while sharing the same goals and principles.
Here’s what I think will happen. The Senate, House, and the administration will resolve their differences on teacher pay and spending priorities, adjusting the 2014-15 budget in a timely fashion. And they’ll continue to work through differences on other matters without clubbing each other to political death, as their critics so obviously and desperately want them to do.
Meanwhile, the Left will continue watching tirades on MSNBC, swapping conspiracy theories on the Internet, and endlessly debating the relative influence of Pat McCrory, Phil Berger, and Thom Tillis. Throw in some Occupy/Moral Monday theatrics and pro-Kay Hagan stunts, and you’ve got a pretty good picture of what North Carolina politics will look like in the coming weeks and months.
The Republic will survive. Conservative reforms will advance. The two trends are related.
John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.