Scott Mooneyham: Gov. McCrory lays out his agenda, looking for new start

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RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory held a news conference the other day.

It was no ordinary news conference.

This was a grand affair, held in one of the large rooms on the first floor of the governor’s mansion. In the ornate surroundings, replete with heavy, embroidered curtains along the windows and a portrait of the late Jim Holshouser gazing into the room, news reporters and governor’s office employees sat in wooden-backed chairs facing a U of tables lined with microphones, chandeliers hanging above.

For a moment, I wondered whether Henry Kissinger would appear, followed by a row of expressionless, suit-clad State Department officials standing opposite a handful of Vietnamese in army green, all of them ready to again settle the Vietnam War.

But this was Raleigh, not Paris.

Instead, members of McCrory’s cabinet lined up around the table, followed by the governor himself.

McCrory spent the next 30 minutes checking off as victories tax cuts and reductions in the unemployment rate in 2013 and then laying out his agenda for 2014.

That agenda included talk of increasing teacher pay, with more focus on new teachers and those in high-demand subject areas, and pushing for more policies to ease the way for oil and gas drilling.

McCrory also spoke about pushing ahead with changes to the state’s road-building formula, but adding a new twist — a beautification program incorporating art and creative landscaping along highways.

He also noted the little-noticed budget provision that would have his state budget director, Art Pope, direct a new government efficiency review. McCrory said part of that review would examine whether that most unwieldy state agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, is “too big to succeed.”

Outside of the formalities, the shindig was not so different than other events from other governors. A relatively new governor is looking to a new year for a new start.

Still, it prompted a pointed quip from longtime Democratic political strategist Gary Pearce. In a blog posting, Pearce wrote, “In the end, the whole production mattered very little. Only one thing does: What does Senator Berger want?”

Partisan motives certainly were at play in Pearce’s whack at a Republican governor.

The comment, though, does raise something worth watching.

Senator Berger, of course, is Senate leader Phil Berger, and last year, despite the two sharing the same party affiliation, Berger and his legislative chamber made life fairly difficult for McCrory.

A sure sign that McCrory is in store for more of the same, or that a new kinder, gentler relationship between governor and legislative leader is on the way, will come over the issue of teacher pay.

McCrory and legislative leaders know they have a problem when it comes to their standing with school teachers. Both governor and lawmakers want to raise their pay.

If they emerge with a consensus plan to do that, it’s a sign that they may play much nicer in 2014.

Competing plans, on the other hand, would indicate the game and gamesmanship are still on.

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