When state lawmakers reconvened this month, Gov. Pat McCrory pleaded with them not to override his vetoes of bills that required drug testing for welfare recipients and extended an employer exemption in the E-Verify immigration system. He lobbied legislators to support his administration. Essentially, he was begging them not to make him look bad.
But last week, after less than 40 minutes of debate, the House voted to override the vetoes. The margins were 77-39 and 84-32 - not even close.
It took the Senate less than 10 minutes to finish the job.
House Speaker Thom Tillis tried to let the governor down easy. "Republicans appreciate his leadership and continue to have great confidence in his administration," he said. They're just not going to listen to him.
The drug-testing bill allows employees who administer the Work First welfare program to require a test of anyone they "reasonably suspect" of using drugs. If a person fails it, they lose benefits for a year. Besides the potential to cost taxpayers a lot of money, the law carries a whole mess of racist undertones.
But what happened in Raleigh with the vetoes is symptomatic of something else: the growing rift between McCrory and legislators.
If the drug-test veto proved anything, it's that McCrory isn't quite the evil dictator some are making him out to be. But at this point, it seems he is practically powerless. Even if McCrory disagrees with bill, legislators have the votes to run right through him.
A sobering reality, to say the least. The past two election cycles spawned dozens of reactionary Neanderthal pols from rural districts who are passing harmful legislation, like a bill that allows guns in bars and on playgrounds. If said legislators had it their way, we'd have a state religion by now.
On bread-and-butter issues, like tax reform and requiring IDs at the polls, McCrory and the General Assembly are on the same team. Last week just showed that he is not the one calling all the plays, which he isn't happy about.
McCrory wasted no time firing back at legislators on Wednesday, even going so far as to say he'd defy them. Since funding was not appropriated for drug tests, he said he is not going to try not to enforce them. He also promised to work around the E-Verify bill.
In a statement he issued following the governor's comments, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger sounded like a father chiding his son. "All governors, without regard to party, swear an oath to uphold the constitution. We expect Gov. McCrory to perform his constitutional duty to enforce the law."
The mighty Sen. Tom Apodaca of Henderson County wasn't as kind. "It seems a little instrument called the state constitution is being ignored," he told reporters. In the same interview, he suggested McCrory "cut a few salaries" to find money to fund the program, no doubt referring to recent news that the governor gave huge raises to some of his administration.
It seems unbelievable that lawmakers in the governor's own party feel free to disrespect him with such impunity. But remember that McCrory came to Raleigh as an outsider, a big-city mayor with few connections. The two individuals who normally would help him instill discipline, Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, are preoccupied; Tillis will challenge U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014, and Berger is close to joining him.
So where should McCrory's loyalties lie: with moderates or with conservatives? McCrory stepped into office totally on board with the latter crowd; when the legislature passed a bill restricting access to abortion, he broke a campaign promise and signed it. But his poll numbers are in a free fall because the general public is so disappointed with Mayor Pat's seemingly extreme right turn.
If he wants any shot at a second term, he'll have to be the moderate North Carolina thought it was electing. That means standing up to some lawmakers, as he did after the Senate and House overturned his vetoes.
Hopefully the bickering continues, if only for North Carolina's sake: With lawmakers too busy fighting, maybe we will stop bearing the brunt end of Art Pope's ALEC-approved agenda.
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