RALEIGH — Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory says Roy Cooper, his Democratic successor, is repaying his trial lawyer campaign contributors by hiring them for expensive, politically motivated lawsuits against the GOP-led General Assembly.
In a wide-ranging interview with Carolina Journal, McCrory also accused Cooper of massive firings of people hired during McCrory’s term in office, spoke of regrets of unfinished business during his four years in office, and hinted that he might run again for governor in three years.
“When you lose the closest election in North Carolina history, and you’re outspent 2-1, and you had everything thrown at you from the national level, why wouldn’t you try again?” McCrory said. Before making that decision, he said, he would need to feel certain he would be the best change agent for state government.
“It’s way too early at this point in time to make that decision … but I definitely want to keep that option,” McCrory said.
But he seemed to be in campaign mode as he ticked off components of his “Carolina Comeback” that he said people appreciate, if belatedly: Reducing unemployment from the fourth-highest rate in the nation to one at or below the national average. Cutting income taxes. Paying off debt. Championing a bond for university, state parks, military and infrastructure projects. And funding teacher pay raises for the first time this decade.
“We had major transportation reform, which took the politics out of transportation, and I hope to God the new governor and the legislature doesn’t roll [it] back, and get back into the good old boy system to how we build roads,” McCrory said.
Not getting a bond issue for roads was his biggest disappointment, McCrory said. Both conservatives and liberals removed it from the agenda, he said. He thinks the public would have passed the referendum with 95 percent support.
“I’m a little disappointed that the current governor and the legislature haven’t talked about putting roads on the ballot,” he said. “We should have at least put another billion dollars in roads this year.”
McCrory said Cooper has not reached out to him for advice or consultation. Instead, the current governor has fired as many McCrory hires as he could, “even down to administrative assistants that had no political connection whatsoever, so that’s a little disappointing.”
McCrory said Cooper is filing “lawsuit after lawsuit.” He noted the irony, because as attorney general, Cooper refused to defend the state in lawsuits as its top attorney.
“He’s hiring a lot of his lawyers who contributed to his campaign, and millions of dollars are being spent,” McCrory said.
The former governor also filed lawsuits, the biggest of which accused Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, of separation-of-powers violations involving legislative appointments that wrested control of three executive branch commissions from the governor.
McCrory said he stood by that lawsuit, upheld by the state Supreme Court. But he said it was ironic Cooper is using the McCrory v. Berger decision to bolster his own legal claims against the General Assembly, even though the circumstances are different.
“He’s not being a leader. He’s just being a person who fights against a Republican legislature,” McCrory said.
“It’s working politically to his advantage,” McCrory said, because his liberal base wants to fight, and “legislators tend to be more unpopular than anybody.” He thinks last year’s shift of the state Supreme Court from Democratic to Republican control has emboldened Cooper, who’s convinced the high court will rule in his favor.
Some of Cooper’s lawsuits involve bills McCrory signed into law. One merged the State Board of Elections and Ethics Commission into a new entity. Another challenged the legislative appointment of the wife of McCrory’s chief of staff to the Industrial Commission. The State Board of Education filed suit over a law stripping it of some of its powers, and transferring them to the state superintendent of education.
McCrory said he signed those bills because they passed with veto-proof margins, and he believed the General Assembly was within its authority on the measures.
He said education reform is sorely needed because there is no accountability either in secondary or college levels.“That was going to be one of my second term endeavors, to try to totally reform the accountability of education,” McCrory said.
He also took some shots at the media. “It’s amazing that WRAL in Raleigh, the News & Observer, and Charlotte Observer haven’t done a coal ash story in six months. Does that mean that I solved [the problem] or it just disappeared?” McCrory asked.
He said mainstream media outlets played a role in his defeat, diverting attention from his administration’s successes, and following Cooper’s lead on magnifying the House Bill 2 dispute, the coal ash controversy, and the controversy over adding toll lanes to Interstate 77 north of Charlotte.
He said the toll lanes were mistakenly called toll roads, and the backlash caused him 30,000 votes in northern Mecklenburg County. He lost the election by about 10,000 votes. He said stepping on toes to break up the “good old boys” system of doing transportation projects probably cost him some votes as well.
McCrory noted that President Trump has been suggesting public-private partnerships for highway projects, which include toll lanes.
“I’d love to help President Trump in giving my advice on that,” McCrory said. He has spoken to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao several times on the political consequences of supporting toll lane construction, and the long-term financial consequences of not building necessary transportation infrastructure.
Dan Way is a staff writer for the Carolina Journal.