Raleigh, N.C. — Seventeen months into his administration, Gov. Pat McCrory is more comfortable in the job and with challenging state lawmakers.
Seen as a moderate Republican when he was elected in 2012, McCrory was swept along with the conservative tide in the General Assembly last year. The only two vetoes he cast were easily overridden.
This year, he has spoken out against Senate plans to cut funding for teaching assistants to pay for teacher raises and to halt his efforts to reform the Medicaid program, as well as lawmakers' attempts to repeal the national Common Core academic standards in North Carolina schools. The House responded by keeping money for teaching assistants and Medicaid reform in its budget, although a final spending plan still needs to be hammered out.
"I'm very proud of 80 percent of the work that's been done and realize we only differ in 20 percent. That's a pretty good record," McCrory said Friday in an interview with WRAL News.
That 20 percent does raise some hackles, however.
When asked about the Senate's desire to shift Medicaid from the state Department of Health and Human Services to a new agency, McCrory said it's not up to them to decide.
"We're looking at this, but I don't think two or three legislators should be making decisions for the executive branch of government. That's the job of the governor," he said.
He is quick to cite what he sees as his accomplishments this year, from working with lawmakers to support a raise for teachers and state employees to opening the state to natural gas drilling to moving job recruitment from the Department of Commerce to a public-private partnership.
But he's also aware of his critics.
The protesters at the weekly "Moral Monday" demonstrations have been growing in number and volume in recent weeks, although the numbers arrested pale in comparison with last year. McCrory met with 20 ministers who have participated in the protests and expressed disappointment that state NAACP President Rev. William Barber didn't join them. Barber has said he was never invited, but McCrory insisted Friday that his chief of staff called Barber about the meeting.
McCrory expressed irritation that some environmentalists essentially blamed him for a February coal ash spill in the Dan River, saying his administration has been trying to address the dangers posed by the toxic ash ponds.
"An environmental group spent $600,000 on a political ad that was really bad instead of spending $600,000 on the environment," he said.
He also said he was disappointed by some of the actions of Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democratic who is widely seen as a potential opponent to McCrory in the 2016 gubernatorial race. Even though McCrory "personally likes" Cooper, he said the attorney general has become more outspoken on issues such as gay marriage and voting rights that pose conflicts of interest with his job.
"His role is to be the chief legal counsel for the legislature and the people of this state and the executive. Instead, he's sending out fundraising letters on issues where he disagrees with the state," McCrory said. "If that were happening to you, you would want to fire that lawyer."