Long, long ago, in one of his final days as Charlottes mayor, Pat McCrory looked out the window of his 15th floor Government Center office, and he swept his hand toward all that had changed in his city.
Uptown had filled out and shot upward, its streets vibrant and busy. There was a new school out there Johnson & Wales a promising NASCAR Hall of Fame, an arena that might help bring bigger things. Each had happened, McCrory said, because he had brought together diverse teams of leaders who had different backgrounds and different political philosophies, but a common desire to make their city better.
It was good for Charlotte, and it was good for McCrory, and when the book on Mayor Pat was finished, it told how a Republican leader got things done in his New South city. It was the story of Pragmatic Pat.
So now hes governor, and McCrory would surely like to keep that image intact. Hes called himself a moderate Eisenhower Republican, and when the New York Times featured him in a January front page article on GOP soul-searching, he emphasized problem solving and cooperation, not ideology. Its the McCrory that moderates embraced last November.
So whats our new governor done, less than two months in?
Hes signed an unemployment insurance bill that harshly and permanently cuts benefits for the jobless while temporarily taxing businesses until a state debt is paid off.
Hes watched quietly as Republicans ram through an historic power grab that fires every member of eight critical state boards and commissions, so that they can be replaced with conservative-friendly appointments.
Hes declared that North Carolina wont accept a federal expansion of his states Medicaid program, claiming that he needed time to fix a broken state system (which is true) but ignoring that the feds would give him exactly that by paying fully for the first three years of expansion.
This is not Pragmatic Pat. Its winner-take-all Pat.
Not surprisingly, his approval numbers are dropping. Some Independents and Democrats, especially in Charlotte, are horrified at what they voted for. (The national love is gone, too. The headline on an Esquire magazine piece ripping McCrory last week: North Carolina takes its turn as Mississippi.)
Everyone, of course, knew that McCrory would be challenged by his states political landscape. N.C. conservatives have long been wary of McCrorys cred, and Republican lawmakers were inevitably going to test him by slamming their feet on the legislative pedal. But unlike those state legislators, McCrory isnt the beneficiary of conservative, gerrymandered districts. He gets elected by a statewide vote, and his is a battleground state thats demographically trending progressive.
Whats a pragmatic politico to do? Look to other governors in battleground states.
In Virginia, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has wrestled with his party on redistricting, photo ID and anti-abortion ultrasound bills, and although hes expressed skepticism about Medicaid expansion, he hasnt ruled it out.
In Ohio, tea party favorite John Kasich announced this month that he would accept the federal Medicaid expansion in his state. In Florida last week, conservative Gov. Rick Scott said hed do the same. They join five other Republican governors saying yes to the offer.
Lets set aside the obvious economic logic and moral sense behind letting the feds help insure hundreds of thousands more people in their states (even Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer accepted the expansion). Scott and Kasich, as battleground state governors, understand the political benefits. Come election time, they know the Republican base is not their biggest worry. Its the growing number of moderates they might lose.
Thats the sensibility many of us thought we were getting with McCrory. Yes, hes a right-leaning governor with a strongly conservative legislature. But unlike voters on the far left and right, moderates dont need someone who always shares their heart and soul. Theyll settle for someone who understands that its hard to win elections without the ideological middle.
Its pragmatism. The Pat McCrory who looked out on uptown Charlotte understood the value of that. He should know today that, as governor, hes getting a new book written on him, right now.