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Long Leaf Pine awards flew out of McCrory's office in December

Posted February 2

Long Leaf Pine certificate

In the closing days of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration there was something of a fire sale in passing out memberships to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. So many were given out so fast in December that the governor’s office wasn’t able to immediately record all of them.

At least 131 people received the honor in December 2016 – but several, including U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson and Harry Kaplan aren’t on the list provided by the governor’s office.

A check of records of those who have received the honor, kept by The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society, reveals that there’s often an extreme increase in awards issued during the closing month of a governor’s term. A typical month might see 30 to 70 awards granted.

While Gov. Roy Cooper’s office is still looking to find out the actual total awarded last December, McCrory would have had to go a long way to top the 255 given out in December 1992 as Republican Gov. Jim Martin was leaving office. That total is followed by the 244 Long Leaf Pines awarded in December 2012 by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and the 238 distributed in December 1984 by Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt.

Hunt returned to office in 1993 – and was a bit more temperate when his two terms closed out in December 2000 -- issuing a mere 73 awards. Back in December 1976, when Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser was leaving office, he awarded 61 Long Leaf Pines and Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, gave out 79 in December 2008, his last month in office.

While not the highest honor conferred by the state – that’s the North Carolina Award – it is the most significant recognition that a governor can give. Think of it as the state’s equivalent to being granted the “key to the city.”

The honor dates back to the administration of Gov. Terry Sanford. In June of 1963, the governor wanted to offer appropriate recognition to four Spanish dignitaries who were visiting the state on an economic development mission.

The criteria for the award are exclusively in the hands of the governor. Generally it is awarded to someone who has lived in North Carolina for 30 years and achieved some significant distinction in service to the state or their community. It can also be awarded to distinguished non-North Carolina residents who have provided a service or significant achievement to the state.

Additionally, any state government employee with 30 years of service was eligible for the award until it was ended by the McCrory administration – a point of significant disappointment when the change was discovered. The Cooper administration is said to be reviewing the criteria.

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