Well, today marks three weeks of water under the bridge since the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned the 2013 legislative session. Only 38½ to go until the fun starts again in earnest next May 14!
One person who probably wouldn’t mind it all that much if the “honorables” made a more rapid return to the Capital City would be Governor Pat McCrory, who must already be counting the days. Being abused on a regular basis by Phil Berger and Thom Tillis was no picnic, but this business of being the center of attention all the time and having to take ownership of all sorts of hard-bitten, far-right policies while enduring scathing national media criticism and plummeting poll numbers has got to be a real drag for the man who enjoyed 14 years in what must have seemed, by comparison, a glorified P.R. job as Mayor of Charlotte.
Of course, this week started off with one of the lowest of these many low and un-fun moments when the Guv signed into law one of the most onerous pieces of legislation to limit the franchise in modern American history. The Washington Post editorial lambasting the decision was entitled: “North Carolina law takes war on voting rights to a new low.” It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry at his lame attempts to explain the decision. As Chris Fitzsimon noted, despite weeks of preparation for what was – by any standard – an historic decision, the Governor still did not manage to get his facts straight.
The Governor’s lousy week continued with a truly bizarre and strident attack from the far right. It seems that McCrory (a man who actually did his best/worst to fast-track fracking into the state) has angered the environmental policy “expert” at the Locke Foundation who blasted the Governor’s tepid support for renewable energy with this headline: “Governor misleading or uninformed on renewable energy legislation? Evasive on timeline.”
Fortunately for the Governor, he knew what to do in the face of these troubles: get out there and interact with the “real people,”— i.e. well-heeled corporate fat cats, political contributors and the members of that most diverse and representative of American sporting professions – the PGA tour. Yes, the Guv did what many a powerful politician has done down through the years when the political going gets rough; he hit the links at a golf tournament (the “New Breed Logistics Pro-Am”) within another golf tournament (the “Wyndham Championship”).
And if the presence of these silly sponsor names on the descendant of an event that used to sport the simple, honorable label of Greater Greensboro Open weren’t enough to depress you, there was always the Governor’s remarkable description of what his visit to the exclusive Sedgefield Country Club was all about – this is from the Greensboro News & Record:
“Now that he’s governor, McCrory said, a day on the course is a good chance to get away from what he called ‘the bubble of politics’ in Raleigh. It’s also a chance to get feedback that he considers genuine.
‘This is real feedback, it’s not coordinated,’ McCrory said. ‘I said when I was campaigning I wanted to get out of that bubble and away from the beltway at least two to three days a week. So this is part of that.’”
Perhaps it was the clarity of mind that all that time with the little people provided that spurred the Governor to insert his foot in his mouth again yesterday when he sat down for an interview with WNCN-TV reporter Penn Holderness. During the interview, Holderness asked the Governor about the remarkable decision by his Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos (first reported by NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska on Wednesday) to bestow enormous pay raises this past April on two young staffers less than two years out of college.
As Ovaska reported, the raises of $23,000 and $22,500 per year, respectively, bumped staffers Ricky Diaz and Matthew McKillip to annual salaries of $85,000 and $87,500. To make matter even more amazing, of course, the 30+% pay hikes for Diaz and McKillip came just a month after McCrory issued an order halting state salary increases to conserve funds.
None of these remarkable facts, however, seemed to cause the Governor the slightest bit of discomfort. McCrory defended the raises to Holderness and even tried to make light of the situation. When the reporter pressed him about the raises in light of the state’s bottom-of-the-pack teacher salaries, he said: “I want teachers to make a lot more. I want teachers to make what TV anchors get paid too.”
And speaking of the Governor’s most consistently gaffe-prone cabinet member, Secretary Wos’ most recent of Twilight Zone moment came at a speech this week to the Wake Women’s Republican Club. As reported by Annalise Frank of Raleigh’s News & Observer, the event was billed as a speech about national health care issues, “but when Wos took to the lectern, she said she would not be able to speak on the topic. Instead she addressed the group as a ‘private citizen,’ and told personal stories on the themes of ‘responsibility’ and ‘freedom.’” Frank also reported that: “A bodyguard prevented a News & Observer reporter from asking Wos any questions after the speech.”
Finally, this week’s winner for “Most Offensive Folly” has to go to perennial champ, Rep. “Skip” Stam of Wake County who said that State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson should “stick to her own knitting” rather than speak up on some controversial education issues. As the Greenville Daily Reflector editorialized, Stam owes both Atkinson and the entire state an apology for his “petty insults.”
Given his track record, however, don’t hold your breath.
By the way, you can hear what Atkinson has to say for herself live and in-person next Wednesday at an N.C. Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon In Raleigh. Click here for more information.