The McCrory era begins

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 11, 2013

Last weekend’s swearing-in made it official, but Saturday’s inauguration celebration added an exclamation point. There’s a new governor in North Carolina, and the culture in state government is about to change.
Pat McCrory is not like anyone else who has served as the state’s governor, at least not in recent years.
People often cite the fact that McCrory is only the third Republican to serve as North Carolina’s governor in 100 years. More important, he is the first in the modern era to serve with solid Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. The significance of that cannot be overstated. He and his party have the power to reshape state government.

To people in Salisbury, McCrory is a Catawba College graduate who has made his alma mater proud. A successful executive with Duke Power, he rose to become Charlotte’s innovative mayor during a period of tremendous growth. He always drew a chuckle when he said during return visits here that his city was a suburb of Salisbury. (What’s 700,000 people more?) He has been a determined Republican candidate, undaunted by his defeat four years ago.
Yet some still wonder how well we really know Pat McCrory. The appointment to his cabinet of former Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz, a Democrat, fits his image as a progressive politician, one who cares less about political labels and more about getting things done. But then came his choice for deputy budget director, Art Pope — a far more radically conservative Republican and the wizard behind North Carolina’s shift to the political right. Where is this going?

Salisbury’s favorite almost-son now faces the daunting task of stepping on toes. Reforming the tax code is at the top of the list. He needs to lead the way in rethinking public education without trashing educators, improving mental health services without building new bureaucracies, updating infrastructure without breaking the bank. That may require some wizardry.
“I don’t want to step on people’s toes to cause pain,” McCrory told a group of bankers recently. “I want to step on people’s toes to get them to stand up and recognize we’ve got a problem we’ve got to fix.” He was talking about taxes, but the same could apply to many areas of state government. McCrory has charisma, management skills and a record of success. But he’s never run up against challenges quite this monumental before. Here’s hoping he continues to build on that fine record — and build a stronger North Carolina.