Well, 2013 was a humdinger of a year in North Carolina politics. For the second year in a row, we were in the national spotlight. In 2012, we were one of the most competitive states in the presidential contest, the site of the Democratic National Convention and we began that year with an unexpected Democratic primary for governor. This year, we were the butt of jokes for outlandish bills like the one to create a state religion and became a laboratory for conservative governance.
We quickly learned that Governor Pat McCrory was out of his element and out of his league. In the first few weeks of his administration he was rolled by the legislature on expanding Medicaid and then became absent from the public debate. Instead of using his authority to shape the agenda, he followed along like a lost puppy.
Unfortunately for the state, he never recovered. He missed opportunity after opportunity to make himself relevant but instead revealed himself as a thin-skinned politician who has a problem with the truth. He lacks the conviction, political skills and intellectual curiosity to ever make much of a chief executive.
Thom Tillis looked better in his first term as Speaker than he did in 2013. He lost control of his caucus and was blindsided by the utter ignorance of members like Larry Pittman. His decision to announce his candidacy for U. S. Senate before the end of session brought his motives into question and led to accusations of vote buying when his Senate campaign took contributions from people with business before the legislature. He also dismissed his critics as “losers,” not a way to make friends among the voters he needs in November if he gets through the primary. Overall, he looked like a pretty weak Speaker and candidate for U. S. Senate who is not yet ready for primetime.
Phil Berger was the big winner this year. With a less than competent governor and lame-duck House Speaker, Berger emerged as the most powerful man in the state, though others would argue that it’s Art Pope. He’s got the political skills that both Tillis and McCrory lack. While his chamber may be more conservative than the house, he avoided the gaffes that plagued the wing-nuts in Tillis’s caucus. Only Bob Rucho really made a fool of himself and those escapades didn’t rub off on Berger.
The Senate President Pro-tem now seems poised to establish a dynasty. He’s engineering his son’s run for Congress. In a shrewd move, he spent a $100,000 on TV ad, ostensibly for himself, but only ran it in the media market where his namesake is running. He’s also using his muscle to raise money for Berger, Jr.’s campaign. If he’s successful, we will likely have a Berger around politics for many years to come.
Tillis and Berger quite obviously have disdain for each other and McCrory has yet to establish himself as a player in the realm of policy development. What holds them together, though, is an almost cultish belief in the power of the free market. They measure success not by the impact of policies on people and families but by the bottom lines of businesses. Falling unemployment is always good even if the jobs being created are not. If poverty increases along with the employment rate, well, at least those people are working and poor instead of idle and poor. For the NC GOP, success is low wages, low taxes and less government, unless that government helps businesses.