Governor greets supporters, defends policies
by Tom Joyce Staff Reporter
When visiting Snappy Lunch in Mount Airy Tuesday afternoon and receiving its trademark pork chop sandwich, Gov. Pat McCrory didn’t eat it right away, sinking his teeth instead into various controversies surrounding state government.
“I’ve stepped on some toes,” McCrory admitted while standing inside the crowded restaurant on North Main Street, surrounded by supporters including local government leaders.
“I didn’t come to Raleigh just to get a title and live in a nice house,” the governor added, while at least two protesters held up signs outside the business. “I came because I want to change the status quo.”
McCrory, who won office in November, and the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly have come under attack for decisions this year involving public education, voting rights, cuts in unemployment benefits, programs serving the poor or elderly and more. Those decisions led to a series of Moral Monday protests in Raleigh.
It was against that backdrop that McCrory journeyed to Mount Airy Tuesday, another stop on a “Main Street Tour” outreach effort initiated by the governor.
His appearance drew more than 150 people to the local restaurant, most of whom lined up outside early in anticipation of his scheduled 1:30 p.m. arrival. As a sizable security contingent of State Bureau of Investigation agents and city police closely monitored the surroundings, the governor arrived in a jet-black unmarked Dodge Charger of the N.C. Highway Patrol.
McCrory, dressed in a striped shirt with no tie or coat, was making his first appearance in Surry County since being elected, which offered a mix of work and pleasure. He later would visit Floyd’s City Barber Shop and the Ottenweller Co. plant on Riverside Drive.
Many local residents — including business leaders as well as city and county elected officials — simply were happy about having McCrory here and the chance to shake his hand, pose for pictures or get the autograph of the state’s highest office-holder.
“We are delighted that the governor has showed up in Surry County,” Eddie Harris, chairman of the county board of commissioners, told McCrory after the crowd moved inside the restaurant and gathered around him.
“Surry County came out strong for Gov. McCrory (in the November election),” Harris added, “and we’re proud of what he’s done.”
And while McCrory seemed to bask in the glow of that support, he also used the occasion to defend some of his stances on various issues in state government.
The visit here came one day after McCrory had signed a sweeping new election law that among other things, will require voters to present a photo ID beginning in 2016.
“It’s caused a national controversy and I don’t see why,” McCrory said of the law that immediately sparked lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. McCrory has countered criticism by pointing out that IDs are required for such activities as boarding a plane or buying Sudafed.
“If it’s good enough for Sudafed, then it’s good enough for voting,” he said while at Snappy Lunch. “My job is to protect the ballot box.”
In responding to a question from an audience member over a related measure to shorten the early voting period, McCrory said the law will make poll openings uniform, eliminating the present system of voting stations operating longer at “selective” locations.
“Now every poll is open for two weeks,” the governor said.
Help For Teachers
Public education was another major topic addressed by the governor Tuesday.
While his administration and GOP lawmakers have come under attack for cutting education, McCrory said this ignores the facts.
“The next year’s budget will be the largest spent on K-12 education in North Carolina history,” he told the local gathering.
Critics, including many media outlets, have focused on budgetary decisions concerning individual educational programs, such as one de-emphasizing teacher assistant hirings, while not taking the big picture into account, McCrory said. In fact, Republican-backed measures will mean the hiring of 1,800 new full-time teachers.
“You didn’t read that, did you?” the governor said in taking a swipe at the press.
“Some of the protesters are not putting that on the signs,” he added while gesturing toward a front window at Snappy Lunch, “including the ones across the street.”
McCrory did agree that teachers should be paid more. “I hope to get a pay raise for them next year,” he said. This could have occurred this year, but was derailed due to having to offset $535 million overbudgeted for the Medicaid program by the previous administration, the governor said.
He also said more emphasis should be placed on vocational training to allow students to learn trades, a departure from conventional college education.
“We need people who can build things, and make things and repair things,” the governor said. “That’s going to help build our economy.”
McCrory said he is committed to jobs, which includes reforms to the N.C. Department of Commerce, a state agency that has headed industry recruitment, and slashing the corporate tax rate.
“Heat” From All Sides
McCrory said some of the state governmental changes already undertaken and still to come are aimed at curtailing spending and reducing the tax burden on North Carolina citizens.
This includes cutting up the “credit card” in the General Assembly, with McCrory pointing out that parents often advise their children not to live on credit. “If it applies to your kids, shouldn’t it also apply to government?” he said.
“These are the toes I’m stepping on in North Carolina right now,” McCrory mentioned. “I’m making financially responsible decisions so we don’t put the next generation in debt.”
McCrory said his decisions have come under attack from both Democrats and Republicans.
“I’m getting heat from the right and left,” he remarked.
“I’m probably not going to sign a few bills, and I’m probably going to veto some bills,” he said of certain measures emerging from the Republican-led Legislature, declining to elaborate. “I’m my own man.”
Also mentioning that scrutiny has come from the national media, including publications such as the New York Times, “we must be doing something right,” the governor quipped.
He blamed most of the controversy on a vocal opposition that has had the governorship in its sights from the time he was elected. ‘There’s been a calculated assault on our policies since Day One.”
Susan Olchek, a Church Street resident, was one of those holding up signs outside. Hers read: “Shame Cookie Man.” The flip side of the sign stated, “Let them eat cookies.”
“I’m just expressing my opinion that he ought to be ashamed of himself for cutting education,” Olchek explained, along with slashing unemployment benefits and elderly programs such as Meals on Wheels.
Regarding the jobless compensation, “that’s our tax money going to Washington and we’re not getting it back,” Olchek said. “His (McCrory’s) policies are taking money from the poor and handing it over to the rich.”
The cookie portion of Olchek’s sign referred to an incident in which the governor offered a tray of cookies to Moral Monday protesters.
Meanwhile, Jody Crawford of Mount Airy held up another sign outside the Snappy Lunch window as McCrory spoke just a few feet away. It suggested that he was “bad” for education, voters, women, health care and the jobless.
Time For Laughs
Tuesday’s visit did bring some lighter moments, however.
One came when Mayor Deborah Cochran presented the governor with granite bookends monogrammed with an “M.”
“Is that ‘M’ for Mayberry or McCrory?” he responded. “These are going in my office tomorrow.”
Another occurred after Eddie Harris, the county commissioner, gave McCrory a jar of honey produced from Harris’ own bees.
“I was hoping this wasn’t moonshine,” McCrory said while holding the glass container.
“Give us a minute,” an unidentified man in the crowd joked.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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