When Governor Pat McCrory appointed gerrymandered map drawer and right-wing campaign and propaganda machine funder Art Pope as State Budget Director, it seemed appropriate to consider McCrory as not only governor, but also the top elected official in the new Pope Administration.
That was a mistake and unfair. It’s become obvious in the last couple of weeks that McCrory is not the second most powerful person in Raleigh. He’s third, maybe fourth, definitely behind Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and maybe also less powerful than House Speaker Thom Tillis.
Monday night the Senate voted along party lines to pass legislation that would reject an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and would prohibit the state from setting up its own health exchange under the federal health care law.
By doing it, they didn’t just ignore the 500,000 low-income people who would receive health care under Medicaid expansion, they also ignored Governor McCrory, who sent a letter to Senators before the vote asking them to slow down the legislation to consider all of its implications for the state.
Senator Berger couldn’t have cared less and the Senate Republican majority passed the bill to deny health care to half a million people.
The next day Senate leaders unveiled a proposal to dismiss the members of several key policymaking boards, including the Utilities Commission, to get rid of all the Democratic appointees and replace them with Republicans.
The unprecedented partisan power grab would also give the legislative leaders more appointments on the boards and reduce the number the governor would make.
Republican lawmakers said the bill did not come from McCrory, that it was their idea. McCrory declined to say anything about it.
He could have disavowed it as a hyper-partisan breach of good faith with the appointees who should be allowed to serve their full terms on the boards. He could have endorsed the partisan motivation but weighed in to protect the power of the governor’s office to make key appointments.
But he didn’t really say anything and the Senate passed the bill that reportedly has strong support among House leaders too.
McCrory did say that he supported the draconian cuts to unemployment benefits for workers that is flying through the General Assembly, but you get the sense that legislative leaders weren’t exactly worried about his view of their plan to pass the legislation that was crafted in secret meetings with business lobbyists.
In fact, it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that these last couple of weeks would not have been much different if Governor Perdue was still in office. Tillis and Berger for the most part ignored her wishes too.
Meanwhile McCrory was making headlines for some disparaging remarks about liberal arts education, the public university system and the uselessness of philosophy degrees on the radio show of Bill Bennett, himself the holder of doctoral degree in philosophy.
Then McCrory’s communications director left after three months on the job.
McCrory’s administration also came under fire for an unusually detailed dress code considered by his Secretary of Health and Human Services and the appointment of Dianna Lightfoot as the new director of early childhood development who doesn’t believe in public preschool and early childhood programs, and has referred to Hillary Clinton as “butch.”
She also tweeted that the earthquake in Japan two years ago may have been caused by ultrasonic waves from China or North Korea.
Lightfoot resigned late Thursday morning under criticism.
Not exactly the headlines the governor was looking for in his second month on the job, but he can expect more of them if he continues to allow ideologues to be appointed to important state jobs and if he continues to remain largely silent in Raleigh while legislative leaders act like they are still completely in charge of everything in state government.
We desperately need a strong governor to rein in the out of control tea party General Assembly. The question now is whether McCrory is willing and capable of doing it.