A McCrory Voter Betrayed

How one woman went from voting for Pat McCrory to demonstrating against him
Greg Lacour

Toni Youngblood is 71, small and soft-spoken, a retired real estate appraiser and registered political independent “because I like to vote in the primaries.” She’s generally voted Republican over the years. When it came time to vote for governor last year, having just moved to Davidson from Hendersonville, she asked people she knew in Charlotte: So what kind of guy is this Pat McCrory?

“They were familiar with him being mayor of Charlotte,” she said, “and they thought he was a good man.” She voted for him.

Here’s how much Toni Youngblood regrets her decision: She was standing in front of Cornelius Town Hall on a hot Friday afternoon in July with about 100 other protestors, waiting for Pat McCrory to show up for a bill signing so she could tell him what she thought of his administration seven months in. She carried a sign: “NC Moderates say ‘NO!’ to Extremist NC Republicans.”

Youngblood is no ex-hippie trying to relive the glory days. She wasn’t wearing tie-dye and a Che Guevara beret, as another protestor was. This was a woman, a self-identified moderate conservative, moved to demonstrate against the actions of a Republican governor and his allies in the legislature in the first protest she’d ever joined.

“I got my first alert when I heard about (Art) Pope influencing him … I’m starting to really read the papers now and seeing how the voters’ rights are being diminished,” she said, referring to House Bill 589, which McCrory may sign today.

It’s more than that, though: “The fact that they’re not willing to fund education absolutely rankles me to the core, because without a well-educated populace, these people are not going to be able to get proper jobs. They are going to be left as an underclass making minimum wage. And I think (lawmakers) are generating something that is an embarrassment.” She practically spat out the last part.

It’s hard to know just how many regretful McCrory voters are out there, or why they decided to vote for him in the first place. Maybe they figured, with justification, that the last two Democratic governors, Mike Easley and Bev Perdue, hadn’t exactly proven themselves exemplary leaders. Perhaps they thought a Gov. McCrory would be roughly similar to the McCrory who was Charlotte’s moderate mayor for 14 years. That’s what I thought, anyway, when I voted for him in 2008.

I know — catch you as you keel over. But, like many others, I thought I knew him. I’d covered the city for The Charlotte Observer in 2006 and 2007 and found McCrory a generally affable and reasonable guy; conservative, certainly — corporate, absolutely — but no ideologue.

He was, overall, a good mayor, and I still tell people this. He showed guts in sticking with Charlotte’s light rail project when he could have earned easy points with most of the rest of the state by condemning it as a silly, Portlandesque waste of precious taxpayer dollars. I assumed it was solid evidence that McCrory had the spine to push back against any kind of extremism, from anywhere. Besides, I thought in 2008, there was a Democrat-controlled General Assembly to balance things out.

Of course, that washed away in 2010, and you know the rest. What seemed like backbone now looks more like general-issue political expedience, McCrory’s calculation that he’d catch more hell from people with money in Charlotte by opposing light rail than by supporting it. Its benefits as an economic development tool were just gravy. It certainly wasn’t a matter of principle. Or if it was, the principle washed away in the flood of corporate cash that financed his run for governor last year.

So here we were, with McCrory arriving at Cornelius Town Hall on Friday afternoon to a crowd chanting, “Shame on you!” Just short of the door, he turned around to take in the scene with a genuinely surprised look on his face. He later dismissed the protest with a blithe, “The great thing about our country is that we’re giving each other feedback,” as if he was scrolling through customer reviews on Yelp.

That was fitting. From the beginning, McCrory has talked publicly about rebuilding North Carolina’s “brand” and instituting a “culture of customer service,” raising the obvious questions about which customers he and his Republican colleagues in the General Assembly imagine they’re serving. It’s increasingly obvious that it’s not the majority of North Carolinians, and casual observers like Toni Youngblood are paying attention, more than they ever have.

“I won’t be voting for another Republican governor, not for a long time,” she told me. “I feel like I woke up.”

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest