Paul O’Connor: Next governor will probably be another weak one

Published 5:45 pm Monday, November 14, 2016

RALEIGH –Although we can’t be certain who our next governor will be, we can be relatively certain that, for the fifth consecutive four-year term, our governor will be weak.

At this writing, Attorney General Roy Cooper leads Gov. Pat McCrory by almost 5,000 votes. The Nov. 18 canvass will provide a clearer number, but we may not know the winner until after an official recount and maybe even a lawsuit.

After 24 years of strong governors from 1977 to 2001, North Carolina has now had 16 years of weak governors. Mike Easley was a distant and lightly engaged governor, one more interested in woodworking than governing. Beverly Perdue was wracked by indecision, and then in her final two years by a hostile legislature. McCrory had a hostile legislature, too, one of his own party, a thin plan of what to do and a thinner idea of how to do it.

Partly because of their own talents, but more because of the results of the Nov. 8 vote, neither man is likely to reverse that trend.

Should McCrory win, he’ll have even more working against him in his second term.

He lacks the affection of legislative leaders and he will not gain any as a lame duck. He will have barely won re-election, running far behind both the new president and his re-elected lieutenant governor, Dan Forest, a man who will spend the next four years running for governor and vying to lead the GOP.

Furthermore, McCrory may no longer have a friendly N.C. Supreme Court. In yet another 2016 political surprise, Democrats regained control of the court, although rumors have a Republican plot astir to pack in two more Republican justices next month.

McCrory will be a figurehead who signs the bills that Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore send him.

Should Cooper prevail, he will face the same hostile legislature, the same lieutenant governor running for governor and the same lack of a voter mandate upon which to stand.

Cooper is much better versed on state issues than McCrory, and that will serve him well on matters solely before the executive branch. He will be, however, the first Democratic governor with a GOP-controlled Council of State.

Legislators will most likely ignore Landslide Cooper’s initiatives and those of legislative Democrats, and they will easily override any veto of their bills.

It is ironic that Republicans, who pushed the Democratic establishment to give the governor the veto 25 years ago, has made the veto meaningless through egregious gerrymandering.

A governor has the statewide soapbox, but grand speechifying isn’t Cooper’s strength; he’s neither Jim Hunt nor Jim Martin.

Weak governors pose a serious shortcoming. We need a unifying force, one elected statewide with a statewide interest, not leadership solely from gerrymandered districts. Last spring, a strong governor might have slowed the parade to HB 2, for example, asking smart questions and asserting influence.

We haven’t had that governor for 16 years, and we’re unlikely to have him in 2017.


Paul T. O’Connor has covered state government for 38 years.