Gov. McCrory leading like a mayor

First Posted: 4/23/2014

Pat McCrory has been governor of North Carolina for 15 months now but he still doesn’t seem to have a handle on the position.

He does have one part of the job down. McCrory is always headed somewhere to cut a ribbon or tour a factory or get his haircut in a small town barbershop. He looks good on the videos his office produces and in the pictures they post of him on social media.

Many of his public appearances on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons are in his hometown of Charlotte, presumably to make it easier to spend the weekend where he was mayor for 14 years.

McCrory seems to relish the mayor part of being governor and he’s good at it. But there’s a lot more to the job, and McCrory has yet to rise to the occasion as recent events have made clear.

Last week McCrory’s office issued a press release outlining what was described as a comprehensive plan to deal with the coal ash crisis, the massive spill into the Dan River and the leaking ash ponds across the state.

The crisis is so far the defining issue of 2014 and of McCrory’s tenure as governor. It is not only an ecological disaster of historic proportions in North Carolina, it comes after three years of shredding of environment regulations and oversight by the Republican General Assembly, the last year with McCrory’s full cooperation.

The coal ash spill also brings back questions about McCrory’s relationship with Duke Energy, his long career as an employee there and the million dollars the company spent in their efforts to get him elected.

And the issue speaks to McCrory’s decisions about key appointments. His point person on coal ash is Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla, who has pledged to make the department friendlier to the businesses it regulates and who thinks there’s something to the oddball theory that somehow fossil fuels are a renewable resource.

Given that troubling backdrop, McCrory’s response to the coal ash spill should have been a major event in his still young administration. But it wasn’t.

McCrory’s office announced his “comprehensive plan” with a news release not with a major speech or press conference where he and Skvarla could answer questions and reassure the public. He could have had key lawmakers there to present a united front for legislation this summer to address the crisis.

But it turns out key legislators weren’t even told the announcement was coming. At least one powerful Republican senator doesn’t think McCrory’s proposal goes far enough because it does not require Duke to move the coal ash from all the ponds to lined landfills.

It’s not rocket science for a governor to give key House and Senate members a heads up about a major policy initiative, especially when they are in the same political party. It is governing 101.

Also last week McCrory appeared at a press conference on Tax Day held by a conservative foundation at a Raleigh hotel less than a mile from his office at the State Capitol.

McCrory’s wrong about the tax plan passed by the General Assembly last summer. Most people will not pay less.

The bottom 80 percent of taxpayers will pay more on average while the wealthy and out of state corporations will get big breaks. And the plan will cost more than $600 million a year when fully implemented, a far cry from McCrory’s commitment that the tax changes would be revenue neutral.

If McCrory wanted to talk about taxes on April 15th, why didn’t he have his own event in his own office instead of appearing at a hotel down the street at a news conference hosted by ideological groups, one of which receives the bulk of its funding from Art Pope, McCrory’s state budget director.

It reinforces the widely held view in Raleigh that McCrory’s not really in charge, that Pope is calling most of the budget shots.

Maybe that is the model McCrory is used to. He’s the mayor, cutting ribbons and making speeches but the city manager and the majority on the city council have all the power.

The North Carolina Association of Community College Trustees held its annual meeting recently that included a panel discussion previewing the summer General Assembly session. After an hour and half of questions and predictions, one of the panelists pointed out that Go. McCrory’s name never came up.

Apparently, nobody on the panel or in the audience thought he would be much of a factor in this summer’s session — a telling commentary on the governor and his power, or lack of it, and his grasp of the job 15 months after he took the oath of office.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.