Editorial: Is Pat McCrory the Barney Fife of N.C. politics?

From an editorial Tuesday in The Pilot newspaper in Southern Pines:

There sure was some wide-eyed optimism spouting from Pat McCrory when he ran for governor in 2012. He promised an end to politics as usual – a revolving-door relationship between elected officials and the lobbyists who earn their keep by getting fat contracts or concessions for those whom they serve.

McCrory pledged to end such lucrative pathways and hailed his Republican administration for its new way of doing things.

And yet, when just this very sort of pay-to-play relationship fell at the feet of the governor himself recently, did he own up to his failings?

Hardly. Instead, he tried to shoot the messenger. He took aim at The News & Observer of Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer for printing an investigative piece detailing how well he looked after his old Charlotte friends’ business ventures rather than the best interests of North Carolina taxpayers.

By all accounts, he wrongly and unethically attempted to intervene and see to it that a lucrative state contract was granted to a friend who just happened to have been a contributor to his political campaign.

Some of the basic facts and the story are undisputed. It is clear that donor Graeme Keith Sr. wanted very badly to renew $3 million in private prison maintenance contracts — and, if possible, to expand said contacts even more profitably.

Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry was understandably reluctant to renew the contracts, much less expand them, on the grounds that private maintenance wasn’t saving the state money and perhaps even created a greater security risk than having the tasks carried out by state employees.

Miffed, Keith turned to McCrory, to whose 2008-through-2012 campaigns he had contributed a total of $12,000. McCrory, in turn, set up and attended a meeting between Keith and Perry. The contract was eventually extended, albeit over the

protestations of Perry and his team. Indeed, Perry’s office has stuck to its guns this entire year and recently said they don’t intend to give Keith another extension beyond this year.

‘Time to Get Something in Return’

A key bit of dialogue during this little drama was spoken by Keith, who made it clear that he had been working on private prison maintenance for over 10 years and had donated a lot of money to political candidates during that period, and that therefore, “it was now time for him to get something in return,” according to a memo from the Department of Public Safety.

McCrory claims that he did not hear that bit about “something in return,” and that he would have “walked out” if he had heard it. In any case, he was certainly soon made aware of the comment, making it all the more suspicious that Keith eventually got his way.

At least Keith was upfront and transparent about his intentions. He was a businessman making an investment, and he expected a return on that investment. And the taxpayers of North Carolina would be the poorer for that.

Predictably, McCrory followed up his denial with accusations that the liberal News & Observer was out to get him. But since the story was so well-sourced – with text messages and emails from McCrory’s own staff – the governor was left whining about photo composition and headline writing.

We are pretty sure that past Democratic politicians, such as Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue and Jim Black, offered the same blame-the-media strategy in the midst of their own pay-to-play scandals, and look how it worked out for them.

McCrory promised to be the new sheriff in town – but instead of Andy Taylor, North Carolina got Barney Fife, his shaky revolver hand and his single bullet.