The transition of Pat McCrory from governor-elect to governor finishes Saturday morning when McCrory takes the oath of office in a private ceremony in the old House chamber in the Capitol building in Raleigh. One reporter and one television camera will be allowed in to record the event.
It’s an odd but fitting end to the transition process. For the first time in recent memory, the public will not be allowed to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the new governor of the state, a governor that was elected after running a campaign promising openness and transparency and a change in the culture in Raleigh.
The decision promoted protests from media organizations and the N.C. Press Association, but the audience at the ceremony will remain limited to a select crowd of family and supporters. McCrory’s defenders brushed aside the criticism by saying that McCrory simply wanted to get to work early.
The inaugural address and parade are scheduled for January 12th. But that has nothing to do with taking the oath at a nonpublic event. McCrory could allow the press and public to view his swearing in and still hold the festivities next weekend as planned.
It’s certainly not the biggest issue facing the state but it’s a perfect illustration of the mixed signals that have come from McCrory and his transition team in the last few weeks.
McCrory has at times appeared confident and statesmanlike, brushing aside bitter and partisan sniping from fellow Republicans at outgoing Governor Beverly Perdue and offering self-deprecating remarks at his press events.
Other times he seems unsure of his own policy positions, falling back on stale and vague campaign talking points in appearances like one this week at an event held by the North Carolina Chamber. He has also seemed almost caught off guard by some of the few questions that his handlers have allowed at his news conferences.
McCrory cabinet appointments are a mixed bag too. Not surprisingly they reflect his close ties to Duke Energy and the Republican establishment in the state. They also reflect an alliance with the polarizing far right of his party, most notably his choice of conservative businessman and financier Art Pope for state budget director.
Pope is such a powerful figure in Republican politics and such a prolific donor to candidates and advocacy groups, more than $40 million worth in the last ten years, that it’s hard not to wonder who was really calling the shots during the transition and who will be in charge when the McCrory Administration takes over Saturday.
McCrory’s Chief of Staff is Thomas Stith, a former top official of the Pope Civitas Institute, the most abrasive Tea Partyish group in the Pope funded empire of right-wing organizations.
Thursday McCrory named former Wake County School superintendent Tony Tata Secretary of Transportation. Tata has only been in North Carolina a couple of years and his contentious reign as superintendent makes him a polarizing figure too.
He was hired by the right-wing school board majority elected with Pope’s help in 2009 that immediately began dismantling the school system’s widely acclaimed student assignment plan.
The Gang of Five lost their majority two years later and fired Tata after massive transportation problems on the opening day of the school and reports of Tata’s dictatorial and intimidating management style.
McCrory constantly touted the business and professional experience of his transition team and his appointees, but his staff clumsily released a list of working groups advising McCrory that seemed scattered and thrown together primarily to fulfill McCrory’s commitment to release them.
No names were listed as members of the groups on education and government transformation for example. Those are areas McCrory himself identified as priorities.
Outside of the Pope appointment, which literally puts a champion of dismantling public institutions in charge of the state budget, the most outrageous moment of the transition came not long after McCrory was elected when supporters announced the creation of The Foundation for North Carolina, a new advocacy group to sell McCrory’s ideas.
The Foundation will be set up in a way that makes its donors private and the group has already begun soliciting contributions of $50,000 for special access to McCrory during the year at weekend events held at posh resorts.
That doesn’t inspire much confidence that the new governor will live up to his pledge to clean up the culture of Raleigh. He is already selling access and he’s not even in office yet.
The question that dominated Raleigh after the election was which Pat McCrory the voters had elected, the moderate former mayor of Charlotte who supported mass transit and public investments or the politician who appeared at Tea Party Rallies and made robocalls for Americans for the Prosperity.
We still don’t have a definitive answer but folks looking for the moderate McCrory don’t have much to hang their hat on as the transition period comes to end.
And they can’t even attend the swearing-in.