RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — After three months, Gov. Pat McCrory seems to have found his footing within state government. The question is whether North Carolina voters and Republican colleagues at the General Assembly will continue to like where he stands.
The first GOP governor in North Carolina in 20 years spent his first weeks in office doing what most new executives who transfer to a new city do — move into a new home, hire key staff, put out administrative fires and make a couple big decisions.
Following a few public dustups, McCrory has now reached the next chapter in his four-year term to fix what he told voters last fall were North Carolina’s “broken government” and “broken economy.”
His state budget plan and privatization proposals for managing Medicaid and recruiting companies to North Carolina represent his administration’s first major policy forays that legislators will consider.
“We’re working with a sense of urgency to fix immediate problems and implement long-term reforms,” McCrory said in an interview with The Associated Press before his 100th day in office Monday.
He said he was focusing on improving education, government efficiency and the economy.
“I’m trying not to get distracted by peripheral issues … because I’m trying stay focused on what people elected me to do.”
McCrory had no experience as a state official, instead getting his political experience as a Charlotte city council member and later mayor for 14 years. He persuaded enough state voters it would help him think outside the box or avoid partisan rancor.
So far, a significant chunk of the public remains satisfied. An Elon University Poll showed 46 percent of residents surveyed last week approved of McCrory’s job performance and 25 percent disapproved. Another 27 percent didn’t have an opinion.
“I think he’s done good job of using the first 100 days to try to acclimate himself,” said David McLennan, a political science professor at William Peace University in Raleigh.
McCrory took some heat for raising the salaries for his incoming Cabinet. His administration’s choice for running pre-kindergarten programs withdrew as it became known she led a group opposed to organized pre-K. The governor also went on a radio talk show and referred to an “educational elite” and criticized some in the University of North Carolina system.
“He’s had a few minor slipups,” McLennan said, but they haven’t damaged him significantly.
Political opponents are unhappy with McCrory for signing bills into law that accelerated the repayment of federal debt for unemployment benefits in part by cutting future jobless benefit checks, and refusing the expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. McCrory also supports legislation that would require voters to show photo identification, despite fierce opposition from civil rights groups.
Six-term Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said the governor has criticized too harshly a public education system that includes one of the country’s best university systems, a model community college system and public schools with record high graduation rates.
“You can’t say everything’s broken when we’ve had the kind of successes that we have in this state and when people want to come here,” Ross said. “So fix the things that are wrong … but spend some time learning about what’s done well and build on some of those successes.”
McCrory embraces interacting with the public and those who disagree with him on issues — a stark contrast to Democratic predecessors Govs. Beverly Perdue and Mike Easley. He also travels outside of Raleigh at least two days a week.
He dismisses his strongest detractors as unwilling to accept change. “I think you’ve got a lot of established interest groups that want to keep the way things are,” he said. “I wasn’t elected to keep the status quo.”
During the next 100 days, McCrory will spend much of his time working with the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which can ignore a governor’s wishes because the GOP has veto-proof majorities.
Lawmakers are expected to pass a two-year budget and hope to develop a long-awaited overhaul of the tax code. McCrory also wants his Medicaid and commerce agency changes passed. He holds regular breakfast meetings at the Executive Mansion with legislators of both parties, gathering their input.
House Republicans seem to have the more friendly relationship with McCrory compared to the Senate.
“If his boat rises, we rise as well so we don’t want to do anything that would make him look bad,” said Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell. “If the governor goes down, every (Republican) member of the House is going down as well.”
Democrats said they’re unsure yet whether McCrory is going to ultimately govern from the middle or sign bills into law sought by tea party Republicans or social conservatives. That could make him look too extreme to voters.
As he did during the campaign, McCrory last week eschewed traditional partisan labels.
“I’m governing from a pragmatic, visionary point of view,” he said.
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