Dear “Mayor Pat,”
I hope you don’t mind my using your old title, but it’s how I knew you for years. You probably don’t remember me. We were in meetings together when you were mayor and I worked in public affairs for one of the big banks.
We were working to win public support for the NBA arena uptown. I went along with you on that one (just as I voted for you several times). The Uptown arena didn’t make you any friends among conservatives, but you stood your ground and did what you thought made sense for the entire city.
You cut your political teeth in the days in Charlotte politics when most civic decisions reflected centrist consensus rather than party strong-arming. Charlotte’s Republicans and Democrats didn’t differ dramatically. You all knew how to work with a broad set of community and business leaders to try to do the right thing not just for the economy but for all, or at least most, of your voters.
I’ve been privileged to work with powerful leaders in public positions. I worry that none of your advisors is shooting straight with you.
Last weekend you came back to Charlotte for the state Republican convention and said three things to a roaring, adoring crowd:
“We won’t back down.” What happened to those centrist instincts and consensus-building skills that served you and other Republicans so well here? Charlotte’s success was your main talking point in your run for governor. You might also recall that those skills served our state’s governors well for decades (Sanford, Hunt, Martin), resulting in the well-educated, moderate, forward-thinking status that is now being dismantled in the General Assembly as you watch from the sideline.
“We want to unite this state.” Do you understand the seeds of division that are being planted under your leadership?
You also said that out-of-state agitators were responsible for the Moral Monday demonstrations that have drawn thousands over the last weeks. Monday, I joined hundreds of clergy who came to be the voice of the voiceless and powerless (at-risk children, poor women, the unemployed, the sick, elderly and other voters, among others). What I saw was a broad mix of people from across our state (I knew because they were carrying signs telling you where they were from).
I couldn’t tell if any of your out-of-state friends from the American Legislative Exchange Council were there, but it probably wasn’t their kind of crowd.
Time for dialogue
I considered practicing civil disobedience while in your new city. But, for now, I decided to write this letter instead. I think churches should be very cautious about entering politics, but the Gospel plays out in that arena, too. I felt I could no longer remain silent, as do a growing number of people of faith.
What our state needs is more honest dialogue and less name calling. Next time you are here, I would be happy to host a meeting with this church family. We are rich and poor, black and white and a little Latino, gay and straight, young and old, urban and suburban, employed, unemployed and underemployed. Overall, we are middle-class North Carolinians. If the combined impacts of this legislative term were to be applied, this congregation, in some ways a snapshot of the state, would be a good bit more harmed than helped.
That seems unnecessary. From what I gather from my state legislator, there is plenty of money. The two-year, Senate-passed budget, which slashes a range of programs for our state’s most vulnerable citizens, sets aside more than $750 million for tax breaks and other give-backs to the less needy. It seems, as one person has said, we don’t have a money problem in North Carolina but, rather, a moral problem in Raleigh.
How to unite us
It’s not too late, Gov. McCrory, for you to weigh in and make a difference. There is still room in state budget negotiations to alleviate some of the proposed pain on tens of thousands. Proposed voter ID laws could still be pulled back. Cuts and other changes to public education, especially for our poorest neighborhoods and residents, could still be avoided. Health care for poor mothers might still be salvaged.
But that will take a leader who can speak for the entire state, the state you say you want to unite. As we enter the final weeks of what has been a mean season of legislation, you might still show some of the kind of centrist, pragmatic leadership that put you on the map in the first place.
Let me know if you would like to come by for a town hall meeting. At the very least, you could come hear our wonderful gospel choir.
Rev. John Cleghorn, a 29-year resident of Charlotte, is pastor of Caldwell Presbyterian Church.
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