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McCrory learns who’s really leading the state

By Fannie Flono
Associate Editor
Jack Betts
Fannie Flono writes on news, politics and life in The Carolinas. Her column appears on the Editorial pages of The Charlotte Observer.

The fireworks just keep skyrocketing after this year’s historic N.C. legislative session. With Republicans in control of both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion, the session brought sweeping conservative policy changes – and a lot of dissatisfaction.

A lot of that disapproval has come from N.C. residents as demonstrated by ongoing Moral Monday protests, public outcry at forums like a recent one in Charlotte, and polls that have tracked dropping favorability rankings for the legislature and the governor.

But amusingly, Gov. Pat McCrory and his party’s legislative leaders don’t seem that keen on each other either these days. The snipe fest was on this week as lawmakers convened to override McCrory’s vetoes of an immigration bill and legislation calling for drug-testing some welfare recipients.

Lawmakers shot down the vetoes in short order, and that had McCrory shooting back. He said that the drug-testing bill was an unfunded mandate that he would not implement. He also raised questions about the legality of the immigration bill, which extends the time frame for employers to verify a worker’s legal status from the current 90 days to up to nine months. He said his administration will scrutinize it to make sure it complies with “the letter and spirit” of federal law.

McCrory elaborated at the state school board meeting in Raleigh on Wednesday, noting that “some of the manufacturers in towns like High Point worked hard for this bill because they, frankly, want to hire illegal immigrants as opposed to North Carolina workers and pay good wages.”

Well now.

Republican leaders didn’t take kindly to his words. Senate Pro-Tem Phil Berger got lawyerly and cited the state constitution’s requirement that the governor execute the laws the General Assembly passes. “We expect Gov. McCrory to perform his constitutional duty to enforce the law,” he said in a statement.

Senate Rules Chair Tom Apodaca got in a swipe, noting that maybe McCrory could find some of the money for the drug tests in the salary increases he has been giving, referring to the controversial big raises he gave to two 24-year-olds who worked for his campaign and are now on staff in jobs where their experience and qualifications are lacking.

Republican Rep. Harry Warren, the main sponsor of the immigration bill, took a tack McCrory himself often takes against opponents – declaring the legislation “too complex” and that the governor might not understand it. Said Warren, “I’m looking forward to an opportunity to sit down with the governor and discuss the bill. It’s a very complex bill, very delicately balanced. It’s imperative we get an opportunity to sit down and make sure he has a clear understanding to avoid this type of confusion in the future.”

Got that, guv?

These vetoes were hardly a display of great leadership on McCrory’s part. There was more far-reaching legislation where he could and should have taken such a stand that would have had more meaning. The expansive election law and restrictive abortion legislation are among them.

McCrory’s pledge not to enforce the drug-testing bill, wrong-headed to be sure and likely to bring a court challenge just as the election and voting bills have, will likely crumble just as his campaign vow not to approve any limits on access to abortions.

Lawmakers pointed out Wednesday that the legislature did set aside money that can be used to implement the bill: $9 million is in budget reserves for the cost of a variety of new laws this fiscal year, and $11.6 million in the next fiscal year. A legislative fiscal analysis indicated that it would cost about $145,000 to set up the computer processes for the background checks that are part of the bill. That negates the unfunded mandate charge.

It’s still problematic and wasteful. Not only does the legislation heap extra work on an already stretched thin force of social workers, it pushes them into roles for which many are not equipped or trained. Such laws have already been struck down in courts in Florida and elsewhere as discriminatory and unlawful.

McCrory rightly called the bill “a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion.”

McCrory lobbed one more blast at his fellow Republicans after the veto vote, saying in a statement that they had passed “some flawed legislation during the last hours of session with little debate, understanding or transparency,” and that they had ignored his concerns.

Well, yes, they did. Get used to it.

Email: fflono@charlotteobserver.com
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