RALEIGH — To hear some Democratic activists talk, Gov. Pat McCrory is now in lockstep with one of the more conservative state legislatures in the country.
Behind the scenes, the reality is probably a bit different. But to keep from being run over by a powerful state legislature, a governor new to state government must learn a few lessons, and learn them fast.
McCrory may recognize that by now.
If he doesn’t, he faces a real danger of playing second fiddle to legislative leaders on policy and playing into Democratic plans to portray him as weak, mean-spirited or right-wing.
In other words, he will have hard time, in four years, walking through an empty warehouse wearing a field coat talking about being a pragmatic, post-partisan problem-solver without eliciting laughs.
What are the lessons to be learned?
Lesson No 1: In politics, it is not your enemies who will do you in; it is your friends.
My friend and mentor, retired Associated Press writer Dennis Patterson, always referred to this adage to explain the troubles of politicians that he had watched over the years. I suspect some of those politicians — Mike Easley, for example — might agree with that observation today.
As for McCrory, his well-known friendship with House Speaker Thom Tillis may pose the most significant danger to him.
That is not to suggest that Tillis wants to see McCrory struggle.
Tillis, though, is in a precarious situation.
He is widely believed to be considering a bid for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014, and has said he will not seek another term as House speaker.
What that means is that Tillis needs his caucus members, his fellow House Republicans, more than they need him, as his ability to raise campaign money for them will be secondary to his likely successors.
So, Tillis may not want to push back against the consensus of his very conservative caucus, and McCrory could be dragged in that same direction, a direction that might not be so good for a politician who needs to appeal to the political center.
Lesson No. 2: Do the math, and then make it work for you.
Republicans in the House and Senate now enjoy veto-proof majorities. That may not be good for McCrory, not if leadership in those chambers wants to go in a direction that he does not.
But he could effectively block anything in the legislature by recruiting just six House Republicans (the number needed to erase that veto-proof majority) to be his loyalists and water-carriers. In turn, those six would become some of the more powerful members of the chamber.
Lesson No. 3: Stay above the fray.
With loyal lieutenants in hand, there is no reason to engage in any running public squabbles with other legislators. If they fail to understand that a united, public front is more important to them than to you, make them understand once and they will get the message.
Capitol Press Association