Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory is beginning the second half of his four-year term laying out his legislative priorities, playing up his accomplishments and, occasionally, making a joke.
"As I open up the newspaper today, the headline here on the front page – it's not about me today, thankfully," McCrory said, drawing a few knowing chuckles from those at a UNC Board of Governors meeting Friday.
Dealing with lawmakers who want to clip his ability to manage major state programs such as Medicaid and questions about his ethics disclosures can't be how McCrory envisioned spending his time when he campaigned in 2012. Pat McCrory Promise Tracker
The former Charlotte mayor, a Republican, can point to some high-profile wins as well, including a deal to sell the Dorothea Dix property to Raleigh that his office rolled out this month. And he can point to a growing list of 2012 campaign promises that he has kept.
WRAL News identified 33 specific promises McCrory made while on the campaign trail and, through our Promise Tracker feature, have been keeping tabs on whether he keeps his word. Of those promises, McCrory has accomplished 17. Another four are marked "kept so far," which means he will achieve that goal if his office's policies don't change. Combined, that's a full two-thirds of the promises we're tracking.
Three of the promises we're tracking have ended with "mixed results," meaning he was able to at least partially follow through. For example, he promised that North Carolina's unemployment rate would dip below South Carolina's within a year of taking office. The Tar Heel State's numbers still lagged South Carolina at the end of his first year, but at the beginning of 2015, North Carolina does boast a lower unemployment rate.
Seven more promises are "in progress," meaning he hasn't broken that promise but he has yet to achieve his mark. For example, McCrory pledged to have the state sell land for a deep-water port purchased near Southport. He has also pledged to eliminate unnecessary boards and commissions. The state still owns the port land, and there has yet to be legislation or administrative action doing away with large numbers of volunteer boards that the governor appoints.
"Our team is still exploring options to reduce the number of boards and commissions, and the governor has been a critic of expanding the number and has even sued the legislature over the creation of unaccountable commissions," McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said.
During McCrory's two years in office, the tracker has rated only two promises as broken. One relates to additional abortion regulations; the other relates to developing an ethics plan at the start of his term.
Still on to-do list
McCrory is likely to get at least one or two more green "thumbs up" without doing much more work this year. For example, if existing laws and policies continue, those exploring for natural gas should be able to get a permit to drill in the state sometime this year. It's also a good example of a promise that some constituents might prefer he didn't keep. Just because he is following through on a campaign promise doesn't mean that action will be universally popular.
Some promises, such as working toward expanded overseas trade or being available to the media, are completely under McCrory's control. For other promises, such as testing all ninth-graders for reading and math skills, he will need help from lawmakers to accomplish.
The same could be said of plans he has developed while in office. Twice in January, for example, McCrory has pitched ideas for boosting the state's economy. Those plans will need both taxpayer funding and tweaks to state laws.
"The governor is becoming a shrewd negotiator. He's got two years experience at doing this," Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said when the legislative session opened last week.
Despite being a Republican and having Republicans in control of both the House and the Senate, McCrory has had to negotiate for things he wants at times. He has also vetoed bills and is suing the legislature over their creation of boards and commissions that take away his authority to manage environmental problems, such as coal ash cleanup.
While there has been friction, Republican legislative leaders say they expect the governor to help set the agenda for the upcoming legislative year.
"The governor and I have what I consider to be a good working relationship," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said. "When he makes a proposal, there are two things. One, you're cognizant of the fact it's the governor who made the proposal, so it's not the same thing as you dreaming it up. So, it's important to pay attention. The second thing is the quality of the proposal. If we've got a good proposal from the governor, I think it will meet with a good response."
Berger said he thought there was "substantial agreement" on what items needed to be worked upon.
But that's not always the case. For example, McCrory has strongly hinted that he may want to expand the state's Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and disabled to cover more people. Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore rhetorically slammed the door on that option last week, saying they saw no reason to do so.
McCrory also has pushed a retooled management structure for the program that the state Senate has yet to embrace.
Blue suggested that McCrory may have to step outside the traditional partisan boxes and lean on a combination of Democrats and some Republicans willing to cut across their party's legislative leadership.
"If he is unwilling to go outside what the leadership in the Senate says they want and convince members individually that he's got a vision that's better for this state, then no, he will not get the things done that he's indicated he'll pay attention to," Blue said.