People struggling to understand Pat McCrory might give up after Wednesday. The governor delighted some, angered others and confused most everyone.
His day began badly. Despite his lobbying, the state Senate took less than 10 minutes to override his vetoes of two bills passed during the recent legislative session. The House had done the same Tuesday. The stinging defeats were delivered by members of his own Republican Party.
One mandates drug-testing for some applicants for public assistance. The other excuses employers from checking workers’ legal status for nine months after hiring rather than three months.
After the override votes, McCrory lashed out — and not only at legislators. Speaking about the employment bill at an education meeting, he said: “Some of the manufacturers in towns like High Point worked hard for this bill because they, frankly, want to hire illegal immigrants as opposed to North Carolina workers and paying good wages.”
The remark stunned High Point business leaders and prompted media calls to the governor’s office for explanation. None was forthcoming.
Manufacturers that would hire undocumented workers in an effort to hold down wages deserve the governor’s scorn. But is that happening in High Point?
“To date, the N.C. Department of Labor has not received any complaints about employers in the High Point area violating North Carolina’s E-Verify law,” Neal O’Briant, a department spokesman, said in an email to the News & Record Thursday.
The governor wasn’t done. He issued a statement saying his administration would not carry out the drug-testing law because it the costs weren’t fully funded in the state budget. And he would look for ways to nullify the E-Verify exemption. And, finally, he will provide $10 million to cover salary increases for teachers enrolled in master’s degree programs who would have been cut off by a change in state policy dictated by the legislature. For all that, McCrory received cheers and jeers.
The drug-testing idea is misguided, as the governor says. It’s been an expensive failure in other states. But it’s now the law. Legislators said they expect him to execute it. Besides, citing a lack of money doesn’t wash when the $10 million for extra teacher pay isn’t in the budget, either. At the same time, the governor should be applauded for standing up for teachers who began their graduate studies with the promise of a pay hike once they earned the additional degree. That pledge should be honored.
The problem is that the legislature passes the budget. McCrory’s statement strongly criticized legislators for inserting last-minute education policy changes into that budget — but he signed it into law six weeks ago without a word of complaint.
What’s happened? As McCrory signed one controversial bill after another, his approval ratings fell. He hitched himself to an unpopular legislature — or was pushed around by it. Wednesday, he tried to create some distance.
He should have done so sooner and with more consequential legislation, such as voting changes or education funding. He should have commanded more respect among legislators of both parties and headed off bad proposals before a veto was necessary.
Maybe Wednesday marked a turnaround for McCrory but, so far, this first-year governor is almost impossible to figure out.