Governor Pat McCrory could have gone a couple of ways with his widely-anticipated State of the State speech Monday night.
He could have laid out a compelling vision for the future of North Carolina and in the process answered questions about which McCrory is actually governor, the moderate mayor of Charlotte or the far-right campaigner who bellowed anti-government rhetoric at tea party rallies.
But flowery oratory is not McCrory’s style so it’s not surprising he didn’t choose that option.
He could have laid out very specific proposals on tax reform or job creation or health care like Republican and Democratic governors before him have done in their addresses to the General Assembly and the statewide audience watching on television.
He didn’t do that either.
Instead McCrory delivered his basic campaign speech about broken government and customer service, filled with the same tired anecdotes, railing against DMV and the federal government and blaming the Perdue Administration for problems with Medicaid that the Republican General Assembly helped create.
He did add a few things to the reheated stump speech because of the timing of his remarks. He announced he would sign legislation Tuesday that slashes unemployment benefits for laid off workers and denies emergency benefits to 170,000 people.
He didn’t mention that he would be signing it in a private ceremony, away from the gaze of the thousands of families it will hurt.
He restated his opposition to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Act, effectively denying health care to 500,000 low income people who cannot afford coverage on their own.
He blamed the problems identified in the recently released audits of the Medicaid program for his decision, some of which were the result of unrealistic demands put on Medicaid officials that lawmakers were told repeatedly were not possible to meet.
McCrory did demand a restoration of the funding for drug courts that the Republican General Assembly abolished last session. And he spoke passionately about the need to do more to help folks struggling with substance abuse and addiction.
He deserves credit for that, though it’s hard to reconcile his genuine concern with his hostility toward Medicaid that provides vital services to so many people with addictions or mental health issues and could help thousands more if McCrory would follow the lead of fellow Republican governors and support expansion of the program.
The only other remotely encouraging news came in what McCrory did not mention, school vouchers and voter suppression legislation primary among them. But it’s a sad commentary that what passes for good news in Raleigh these days is when politicians don’t mention something regressive or extreme or punitive—even though they may still support the proposals.
McCrory’s office refused to release a prepared text before his remarks and said none would be available after his speech either, leading some to speculate that McCrory would be speaking off the cuff in the address.
He wasn’t. He was clearly reading much of his speech to lawmakers. And while the prepared remarks confusion is a very minor point, it is illustrative of the first few weeks of the McCrory Administration, awkward, clumsy, and unsure how to proceed.
That was reflected in the content of the speech too. Maybe McCrory and his team thought that safe was best, just reheat his standard stump speech and enjoy a few standing ovations for the predictable tea party government bashing talking points.
It’s too bad. The new governor missed a golden opportunity to define his administration after a series of missteps and questions about who is actually in charge now in Raleigh—legislative leaders, State Budget Director Art Pope, or McCrory himself.
We still don’t know.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of NC Policy Watch and an NC Spin Panelist