Kirk defends McCrory, tells county to build school central office downtown
SALISBURY — In a speech to business and political leaders laced with humor and a few admonitions, Salisbury native Phil Kirk offered a vigorous defense of Gov. Pat McCrory and rebuke of media coverage of his administration.
The Rowan County Chamber of Commerce invited Kirk, who lives and works in Raleigh, to speak during a new monthly power breakfast meeting that attracted more than 100 people.
Chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education, Kirk addressed local education issues before turning his attention to state politics. He supported putting the proposed school central office downtown, which Rowan County commissioners have blocked.
“It seems to me that you’ve got a good deal right now,” Kirk said, referring to a recent offer from a private family to finance the building. “Just get it done and get it off the table.”
Many in the room applauded.
Kirk said he has visited all 115 school systems in the state.
“I can say without any doubt that the Long Street office is the worst I have ever seen,” he said. The ongoing central office issue is a “huge negative when people talk about Rowan County.”
Kirk asked churches, businesses and public officials to support new Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody.
“I think she’ll do well, but she needs your help,” he said.
In local business news, Kirk praised economic incentives, which recently helped lure two Gildan textile manufacturing plants to Rowan County. He gave kudos to Rowan commissioners for focusing on the airport, which they recently removed from the city limits, as an economic development tool.
Without mentioning the ongoing feud between county commissioners and Salisbury City Council, Kirk encouraged elected officials to behave.
“I do wonder how much more we can accomplish in Rowan County … if we trusted each other more,” he said. “If we found reasons to get things done instead of finding excuses not to get things done.”
Kirk gave the McCrory administration and General Assembly an A and said he disagreed with only a few policies, including vouchers for private schools and allowing guns in restaurants and bars.
While Kirk said he supports the media’s role as a watchdog and catalyst for rooting out dishonesty and inefficiency in government, he criticized most media coverage of McCrory as “negative and misleading and downright inaccurate.”
“The McCrory administration has made its share of mistakes an should be held accountable, but there should not be a double standard about how other administrations were covered,” he said.
He worked to set the record straight, saying media accounts of several controversial issues were wrong.
State spending on education actually went up by 3.6 percent, not down, Kirk said. And while teacher pay in North Carolina remains abysmal, it reached that point during Easley and Perdue’s administrations, he said.
Kirk blamed Medicaid fraud and inefficiency, which he said is draining the state budget, for the lack of money to give teachers a salary hike.
In response to the voter ID law, Kirk said early voting has not been ended or reduced. While the number of days has been cut from 17 to 10, the number of hours must remain the same, he said.
“If someone really wants to vote, 10 days is plenty,” Kirk said.
Seven or eight types of identifications are acceptable to vote, including free IDs available at DMV offices across the state, he said. When critics ask how poor or elderly voters are supposed to get a ride to the DMV to get an ID, Kirk said he responds, “The same way they get a ride to go vote.”
He joked that straight party ticket voting hasn’t been eliminated, just the box that voters used to check to vote for all Republican or all Democratic candidates.
“You can still vote straight Democratic party or straight Republican party, although I don’t recommend either one, but you have to take the time to read the names,” Kirk said.
The state now has fewer regulations, and it will be tougher to enact new regulation, he said. The transportation system has been reformed, with more money shifted to congested areas.
Kirk lauded McCrory for tapping Salisbury residents Jake Alexander, Greg Alcorn, Susan Kluttz and Tony Almeida to top administration posts. And he praised the General Assembly for passing legislation at lightning speed.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard people criticize legislators for working too fast,” Kirk said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.