Another Carolina Comeback? An Interview with Former Governor Pat McCrory

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The Carolina Political Review interviewed former Governor Pat McCrory after he sat down for a seminar with UNC Institute of Politics fellow and his former chief of staff, Thomas Stith III, last Tuesday. 

A major topic of late is the increasing cultural and political polarization between urban and rural areas, the so-called rural-urban divide. McCrory cited an increase in new residents from places outside the South as one factor, along with the nature of city economics. “The urban areas are doing better financially, and they have lower unemployment.” 

From a cultural perspective, McCrory argues that the divide also reflects religious differences. “The urban areas do tend to be more liberal, especially from a faith standpoint, relative to the rural areas of North Carolina. There’s a cultural and an economic divide.” But the divide is not only between rural and urban: “And, by the way, there are similar divides even within cities. The cities themselves have their own cultural divides.” 

On challenges facing North Carolina, McCrory said growth and its effect on state infrastructure come first. “I think one of the major challenges is, North Carolina is going to continue to grow. From roads to trains to light rail to ports, how are they going to keep up with the demand of a growing population?”

Education presents another pressing challenge, the Governor said. “You have to ensure that you have a workforce that can meet the needs of new industries coming to North Carolina.” 

McCrory offered a few possible solutions for education. “Probably more long distance learning, probably more sharing of resources to reduce the cost. Education is going to have to go through a major change that we probably won’t recognize it in ten years. The cost is increasing so much that we have to reinvent the way we educate.”

The Governor also offered a few thoughts on cooperating with a socially conservative legislature. “I’m more libertarian when it comes to social issues than people would realize. And it’s actually not just that the legislature is as conservative as it is some of the towns are more liberal. I probably am more of a moderate, and I try to find a middle ground.”

He suggested that HB2, for all intents and purposes, basically remained today. “People just aren’t seeing it. Now, both Republicans and Democrats, businesses and universities, are cleansing themselves and pretending everything is back to normal, when basically it’s the result that I wanted, which is no government interference at the local or state level.”

 Former Governor Pat McCrory sits down with CPR Editors Kirk Kovach and Sydney Persing

Former Governor Pat McCrory sits down with CPR Editors Kirk Kovach and Sydney Persing

In a climate where contentious debates abound, such as those concerning Confederate monuments, McCrory advises a deliberative approach. “Students should make sure they’ve heard all sides of an issue, just like you expect of your leaders. There are usually four or five sides, and most people make a decision after hearing just one. Students, most of all, in an academic setting, should be hearing both sides and trying to find solutions. And frankly I believe the solution is not tearing things down, but building things up.”

McCrory touted the economy as one of his legacies in office. “It’s kind of ironic now that the election is over and I’m out of office, the media is finally announcing that the economy was excellent in 2016, in travel, tourism and business.”

He considered bonds for universities and state parks as examples of some of his most significant accomplishments in office. “That will have an impact ten or twenty years from now.” 

His biggest regret was not getting transportation bonds. “That was a major setback, and that was a major goal of mine to get money to repair infrastructure for the next generation. These social issues being debated today won’t be around, but that will have a lasting impact.”

He also suggested that media coverage of HB2 backlash was overblown. “If you go back and read the headlines, you read about boycotting and hotels not being filled, but we knew it wasn’t true.” 

Those headlines were part of a false public relations campaign, he said. “That public relations campaign is now being corrected, but that obviously changed some votes.”

Governor McCrory also weighed in on other issues where state and local governments might clash. He noted that each level has different prerogatives. “If state government starts talking about issues that are really a federal question, run for Congress. Run for president. But stay within your lane of what you were elected to do. I think we have too many politicians talking about issues that are totally unrelated to what they were elected to do.”

When asked about the General Assembly moving to weaken the incoming governor, McCrory said that state government as a whole needed to be reorganized. “In some areas, we need to give more authority to the governor, and in others give more to the legislature. In some places the legislature is too active, and in others the executive is. I think there’s some abuse on both sides. Where we have a weakness in North Carolina is in who is accountable.” 

Education is one example he cited where there is a vacuum of accountability. “Who do these people report to? They report to unelected boards, they report to the legislature, sometimes they report to the governor. So if things do go bad, there’s really no accountability, in all areas of education. No one really knows who is accountable, so it’s very tough to improve if the system is set for no accountability whatsoever.” 

In previous interviews, McCrory hinted that he may consider running for political office. “I don’t miss the entourage and the media of being governor. But I miss problem solving, creating a vision for infrastructure and for the future. I miss working together with my team.”

As for when a decision might come, he offered, “I’ll decide my next political steps, if any, after the 2018 elections. We have no idea what the environment is going to be.”

However, McCrory did say that the well-being of his family would be a factor in his decision.

“I’ll do an assessment of me first and my family, and then of whether or not I would be the best leader for the next four years. But I think elections start way too early, and I think it’s a fault of our system.”
 

InterviewsKirk KovachComment