By Hastings Wyman –
North Carolina is the epitome of a purple state. In 2008, Obama carried it with 49.7% of the vote. In 2012, Romney carried it with 50.4%; the same year, Pat McCrory (R), a 14-year veteran of the Charlotte mayor’s office, was elected governor with 54.6%.
The state legislature, however, is strongly red. Republicans have a 34R-16D majority in the state Senate and a 74R-45D majority in the House.
That should be good news for McCrory. But, as Ferrel Guillory, Director of. the University of North Carolina’s Program on Public Life, points out, “We tend to think of the governor as the organizing force for what is going on… But McCrory is different. He is not the dominant force. He’s one among several forces.”
Chief among these other forces is the legislature, and despite the large Republican majorities, McCrory is often in conflict with the GOP leaders in both legislative chambers. This was illustrated recently by the failure of the legislature to sustain the governor’s veto on two relatively high-profile measure by the required three-fifths vote.
One, the “ag-gag” bill, allows businesses to sue persons who gain access to non-public areas to photograph or video alleged improper activities. The law is designed to inhibit those who want to document environmental misdeeds, especially in poultry plants and hog farms, two major agri-business sectors in the Tar Heel State. But these businesses are important to the economies of the rural areas that elect many of the Republican lawmakers, who vote to override the governor’s veto.
The other measure McCrory vetoed unsuccessfully allows local officials to refuse to issue any marriage licenses if they have a religious objection to same-sex marriages. North Carolina voters narrowly disapprove of same-sex marriage, with 44% supporting it to 46% opposed in the latest Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey. This is a major shift in sentiment; last year, voters opposed gay marriage by a stronger 53% against to 40% for. But trends aside, opinion is very much against gay matrimony in the rural and small-town districts across the state, giving the governor limited leverage in trying to sustain his veto.
In addition, says Guillory, the vetoes were overridden because “the legislators are elected from strong Republican districts, so they don’t need [McCrory] politically.”
The governor’s next major test will come when the legislature decides whether or not to put a $3 billion bond issue on the ballot this fall. McCrory is pushing the proposal so that highways and other infrastructure improvements can be made across the state. Republican leaders in the legislature, however, have already signaled a cool reception for the proposal. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R) said the bond issue is unnecessary and House Majority Leader Mike Hager (R) said that if a bond issue is passed, it should be used more for roads than for public buildings and university improvements.
In sum, says Guillory, “The bond issue doesn’t seem to have much oomph behind it.”
McCrory’s problems with Republicans in the legislature are echoed in his standing with GOP activists. At the recent state GOP convention, McCrory was warmly applauded, but the delegates did not elect the governor’s choice for state chair, but instead went with the candidate with Tea Party and libertarian backing.
These continuing rebuffs to McCrory’s leadership by his own party are taking their toll on the governor’s popularity and his prospects for reelection next year, in the South’s only gubernatorial election. A PPP survey released earlier this month showed McCrory’s approval rating was underwater: 38% approve of him, 44% disapprove. And in a matchup for next year’s governor’s race, McCrory gets 41% to 44% for state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), ending a string of surveys in which McCrory had a small lead. McCrory’s decline was largely among Republicans, whose support for McCrory went from 80% to 73%. The PPP analysis suggested the GOPers’ lessened support for their governor could be the result of his battles with the conservative Republican leadership in the legislature.
Usually, incumbent governors in North Carolina get reelected, but due primarily to his problems with his own party, McCrory, says Guillory, “is in for a battle.” Stay tuned.