It was an extraordinary rebuke. Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, vetoed just two of the dozens of bills passed by the General Assembly during its 2013 assault on progress in North Carolinatwo relatively minor bills. Last week, Republican legislators flicked their middle fingers at McCrory, voting to override his vetoes by the required three-fifths majorities in the House and Senate. In the Senate, the “debate” was over in six minutes.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T? McCrory got none from his fellow Republicans. Maybe it’s time for him to reach out to the independents and, yes, Democrats, who’ve been treated with such disdain by Republican leaders since the GOP seized control of state government last November.
McCrory’s initial reaction, unfortunately, was to blame everyone but himself. In a rambling statement, he lashed out at legislators for passing flawed bills in late-night sessions, slipping new education policies into the budget bill and ignoring “executive branch concerns over long-term operational costs.”
He blamed unnamed furniture manufacturers “in towns like High Point” for the override on a bill relaxing the rules about employer verifications, charging that those companies would rather hire illegal immigrants than hard-working North Carolinians. He said he wouldn’t enforce the other billrequiring drug tests for welfare applicantsbecause legislators failed to appropriate any money for it.
Actually, there is money for it in the budgetnot much, but not much is needed because the bill doesn’t kick in until the next budget begins.
Then Sen. Tom Apodaca, the acerbic Republican who heads the Senate Finance Committee, joked that if McCrory needs money, he should look for it in the inflated salaries of officials at the Department of Health and Human Services. This was a gut shot, given the recent screaming headlines about the failures of DHHS under Secretary Aldona Wos and her coterie of overpaid aides.
McCrory seemed not to remember that he’d signed the budget bill as well as a host of other late-night session specials. These included the worst voter-suppression law in the countrythe bill he said he’d sign while admitting he hadn’t read itand an anti-abortion package slipped into an unrelated bill about motorcycle safety.
His wails brought McCrory little but scorn from editorial writers. “This first-year governor is almost impossible to figure out,” the Greensboro News & Record thundered. The High Point Enterprise said he’d taken “an uninformed, cheap shot at High Point.”
And yet, for all his evasions and prevarications, I discern for the first time in McCrory a recognition that all is not well. Sure, he blames his troubles on reporters too stupid to understand his complex ideas. (Cut taxes. End of idea.)
But behind his facade of ideological certainty and insouciance, he seems aware that he has a problem. His plummeting poll numbers tell him that. A Public Policy Polling survey showed his approval rating is the lowest yet: 51 percent disapprove of his performance; half of voters say the General Assembly is causing North Carolina national embarrassment. (Read more about North Carolina’s national image problem.)
I‘ve said that it’s critical for North Carolina to elect a Democrat or independent as governor in 2016, given the gerrymandering that virtually assures Republican control of the General Assembly for another decade. But for the next three years, we’re stuck with McCrory.
Out of self-preservation, therefore, if not out of charity or pity, we should try to help this man who so clearly needs helpand is crying out for it.
In any 12-step program, admitting you have a problem is the all-important first step. I studied some of them. I offer this 12-step program to our governor:
1. Admission: Governor, you must acknowledge your failings and accept that the problem is you. Maybe it’s the press and legislators too, but you can’t change them until you change yourself.
2. Belief: Recognize a higher power. No, not Art Pope and not the Republican Party. Most 12-steps look to a god, but in a democracy, you should look to the peopleall of the people. From now on, your administration must be bipartisan.
3. Submit: Promise the people you’ll clean house at DHHS. Name a bipartisan citizens task force and follow its recommendations.
4. Take stock: Most 12-steps demand a “searching and fearless” self-inventory. Your biggest problem is, you don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t tell you what you want to hear. Try talking with Susan Wilson, who retired as a water-quality engineer in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources because she wasn’t allowed to do her job. Talk with Dr. Laura Gerald, who quit as state health director at DHHS because of Wos.
5. Share: You’re supposed to share your inventory with a sponsor. For starters, hire a press secretary to help you answer questions, not just duck them.
6. Cleanse yourself: When you’re finished with DHHS, appoint a bipartisan commissiona blue-ribbon groupto help create jobs and move the state’s economy forward. This isn’t rocket science: Former Govs. Jim Hunt and Jim Martin are your co-chairmen.
7. The Ask: Here’s where you go to your higher power for help. Announce the commission in a major public address. Tour the state.
8. Amends I: You need a list of persons you’ve harmed. I know, it’s a long list. Get some names from the NAACP, AFL-CIO and N.C. Justice Center. Stop avoiding them.
9. Amends II: You must actually make amends. I’m thinking that your blue-ribbon commission will bring you a jobs program for the unemployed (you really screwed them), pay raises for teachers (ditto), Medicaid expansion under Obamacare and a plan to expand voter participation.
10. More inventory: Task the University of North Carolina campuses with bringing you “best practices” in government from around the country. Art Pope’s kids can’t or won’t.
11: Prayer and meditation: Think about your next political campaign. You could be popular. Or at least not despised.
12. Help others: Once recovered from your wayward partisanship, you’re obligated to lead others to salvation. Use your “non-political” Renew N.C. Foundation, not for self-justificationthat new TV ad of yours is just delusionalbut to help the Republican Party find its way back to the political center. That’s where you and your administration will be.
Good luck, Governor! I’ll light a candle for you.
This article appeared in print with the headline “.”