Special to The Tribune
Spirits were high as governor-elect Pat McCrory told of his aspiration to run a lean and effective state government during the 20th Annual Charles H. Taylor Holiday Dinner last Saturday night at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville.
The party faithful were excited because Republicans — in January — are poised to take control of both the state legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in 140 years. McCrory, who will be sworn-in on Jan. 5, is the first Republican elected governor in North Carolina in 20 years.
“The first visit I’m making as governor, outside the City of Raleigh, is coming back here to Asheville, North Carolina” on Jan. 7, when the future of Asheville’s water system will be among the issues addressed when he meets — probably downtown — with Asheville residents and leaders, McCrory told a cheering crowd.
“We’re going to spend a night at the (Governor’s) Western Residence,” a 6,000-square-foot home he has never visited, McCrory said, enthusiastically. “I’m going to begin that dialogue right here in Western North Carolina.”
Taylor’s gala, charging $50 per person, drew about 1,000 state and local GOP enthusiasts. Event organizer Trish Smothers said afterward that the turnout was impressive, especially considering the rough economy. The attendance constituted a sharp increase over recent Taylor dinners, but she said the all-time record was about 1,500 people in 2007, when then-GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich — among others — addressed the gala.
At last weekend’s event, the keynote speaker was McCrory, along with headliners Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Forest, who served as master of ceremonies; and Rep.-elect Mark Meadows. Other featured speakers were North Carolina GOP Vice Chairman Wayne King and Taylor, the banquet’s host.
Before the dinner, nearly 100 protesters lined Charlotte Street, from Edwin Place to Macon Avenue, waving signs — at passing motorists headed for the gala — expressing opposition to legislation, introduced by Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Arden, that could result in the City of Asheville’s water system being consolidated into the Metropolitan Sewerage District. Among the messages on the signs were “Hands off Our Water” and “This is a Watershed Moment.”
Taylor, an 11th District congressman (1991-2006) from Brevard, introduced McCrory with much gusto, noting that the governor-elect was elected seven times as Charlotte’s mayor and that this would be McCrory’s first public address since his election in November.
As the crowd arose for a sustained, enthusiastic ovation, McCrory smiled and prompted laughter when he asserted, “Sit down. I haven’t done anything yet!”
More seriously, the governor-elect told the crowd that Western North Carolina was “so fortunate to have had” a congressman of Taylor’s capability. What’s more, McCrory said, “I didn’t think you could get better than Charles Taylor, but you have” in electing Meadows in November. (McCrory’s praise of Meadows drew enthusiastic applause.)
“The law of the land right now is Obamacare,” McCrory said. However, as North Carolina’s governor starting in January, McCrory said he and other Republicans, will do all they can to minimize any financial stress it causes in the state. “We’re going to make sure it’s implemented correctly… “
“Right now, there’s not a lot of authority given to the lieutenant governor, so Dan and I plan to work as a team” to make use of Forest’s skills. “As a Republican, I’m real cheap” when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars” — and dedicated to saving money, “so I plan to make use of him.”
With a broad grin, McCrory then quipped, “In fact, I think I found something” for Forest to work on at once — “You see those protesters” who were lined up along Charlotte Street? The crowd laughed.
On a more diplomatic note, he said that, despite his jokes about the protesters, “I have great respect” for them for expressing their constitutionally protected right of free speech. McCrory added that “Asheville, especially,” tends to be known around the state for the frequent protests staged by various contingents of its residents — and that that is something to be proud of.
Since he was elected, McCrory said his team has been “working on a budget,” so that North Carolina residents “will know exactly how we plan to spend their tax money.”
He thanked those who worked for his election, but emphasized that instead of harboring a goal of simply being the governor, McCrory said his goal is to fix a broken economy and a dysfunctional government in North Carolina.
McCrory said he is seeking “talent I can place in state government,” enabling him to “run the most effective, efficient and customer service-oriented government … We’ve got a $23 billion (state) budget” and it is “a very short time to found the talent” needed to manage it.
On another project, McCrory said he has formed 13 working groups of “external customers of state government to submit to me a detailed report on what we need to do to fix the problem … The No. 1 issue on taking office is we (the state) owe $2.8 billion” to the federal government for money borrowed to pay unemployment benefits since the depths of the so-called Great Recession — and some strategy needs to be devised to deal with the debt, McCrory noted.
In wrapping up, McCrory asserted, “Right now, it’s time for a Carolina comeback — and it’s also time for a Western North Carolina comeback!” At the conclusion of his remarks, the crowd arose to give McCrory another rousing standing ovation.