The least ideologically extreme conservative politician with significant power in Raleigh after Tuesday’s election may be the Pat McCrory who was the mayor of Charlotte for 14 years, the Republican who worked closely with mainstream business leaders and championed public investments in light rail and economic development and supported tax increases when he thought they made sense.
But it’s not clear yet if that is who was elected as the next governor of North Carolina or if the Pat McCrory of the last four years will be moving into the governor’s mansion, the candidate who hung out with the rabidly right-wing Americans for Prosperity and the rest of the Tea Party crowd as he was preparing for his 2012 campaign.
It’s the most important question in Raleigh these days and the answer has dramatic implications for everything from public schools to tax reform to the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
McCrory held his first Raleigh news conference Thursday and the signals were mixed about which McCrory is planning his transition.
Former Republican governors Jim Martin and Jim Holshouser are on the committee working with McCrory, a sign that more traditional Republicans will have influence on the initial direction of the new administration.
Corporate leaders from Charlotte and officials who worked with Martin when he was governor are also helping McCrory, most notably John Baldwin, who also served as Chief of Staff to Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker, a politician also generally not considered part of the Tea Party wing of the conservative movement. Baldwin is the Deputy Director of the transition team.
But Art Pope, the principal funder of right-wing policy and political groups in North Carolina, is on the committee too and part of the crowd McCrory has assembled to work with him looks like a reunion of former employees of Pope-funded right wing groups.
The transition director is Thomas Stith, who at one time was the Vice President of the Pope Civitas Institute, a key part of the Right’s propaganda machine. The legal counsel for the transition team is Lindsey Wakely who worked at Pope’s company, Variety Wholesalers, and was a law clerk at another part of the Pope machine, the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law.
Former Republican Party Chair Jack Hawke is involved too. Hawke has been with McCrory’s campaign since 2008 but he was the first director of the Civitas Institute.
All these names may seem like inside baseball talk, but it’s the inside folks who will signal and possibly determine which direction McCrory moves as he assumes power. The Pope Tea Party crowd wants school vouchers and more budget cuts to human services and higher education. The more moderate wing seems less comfortable with the hard right slash and burn agenda, recognizing the damage it would do to the state.
McCrory was asked directly at his news conference about the presence of Pope on the committee and he deflected the question by saying he welcomes diverse opinions and added that Pope has a good relationship with Governor Perdue.
That absurd statement aside, McCrory seemed relaxed and confident before the Raleigh press corps, seeming to strike the right tone of determination about his plans and graciousness towards Perdue for her cooperation in the transition.
The governor-elect declined to address most specific policy issues, leaving observers with only the makeup of his transition team as a clue to which McCrory voters have elected.
And the signals are mixed. We still don’t really know who the next governor will be.