by Scott Mooneyham
There is no way around it: For governors to have vetoes overridden is not a good thing; to have them overridden by a legislature of the same political party is even worse.
Gov. Pat McCrory suffered that fate on Wednesday when the state Senate, a day after action by the House, quickly dispensed with two override votes.
One came on a new law that will allow drug testing of welfare applicants; the other involved allowing employers to avoid immigration checks on a larger number of workers defined as seasonal labor.
McCrory had argued that the first bill was unnecessary and would lead to a court challenge. He said the second would mean fewer jobs for North Carolina residents.
On the first bill, he is probably right. The change may not withstand a legal challenge. On the second, he could be right, but the state’s farming community was adamant that it needed the change to align state law with a federal guest workers program.
That’s the policy.
The politics are something else entirely.
Two decades ago, longtime State Treasurer Harlan Boyles wrote, “The power of the veto would make good governors better and expose weak governors for what they are.”
If Boyles was correct, McCrory has been exposed — at least for the time being — as weak. Among other things, the 2013 legislative session should be remembered as one in which state lawmakers took their governor to the woodshed and gave him a good whupping.
That whupping came during a tough summer for the first-year governor that saw him facing harsh questions about personnel decisions and being called out in national publications for siding with lawmakers on positions characterized as extreme.
It would be easy to see all as doom and gloom for McCrory.
It might be the wrong conclusion.
As McCrory was suffering this latest kick from state legislators, he was finally showing signs that he is waking up to the realities that face all governors.
Speaking to the state Board of Education, McCrory said he had no plans to enforce the drug-testing law because legislators included no money to do so. He called it “an unfunded mandate.”
He went on to blame legislators for putting some unpopular education-related measures into the budget. And he said that he wants to use $10 million to provide a pay bump for teachers currently working on graduate degrees after legislators eliminated a program that had provided the extra compensation.
It is unclear whether McCrory gets his way.
His words, though, finally show that he is beginning to understand that these are not his friends, that governors and legislatures are intentional and natural adversaries, that he needs to distance himself from them.
Understanding that fact is the first step in being a strong governor.
Sure, he has to figure out ways to have a working relationship with lawmakers; that relationship doesn’t have to involve getting run over by them.
As for friends, if you want one in Raleigh, get a dog.
—Scott Mooneyham covers the state Legislature for the Capitol Press Association.