Pat the Prickly

The governor, questioned about the coal ash spill, bares his incisors
Gov. McCrory enjoying last week's snow

A bit of context first:

You’re the governor of a state.

The third-worst coal ash spill in American history occurs on your watch.

The offending company is your former employer—for 28 years. You own more than $10,000 in the company’s stock.

It takes you five days to get to the site and demand that your former employer clean things up ASAP.

The Associated Press reveals that the state environmental agency in your administration arranged wrist-slaps for the company rather than allow it to face civilian lawsuits.

The U.S. Justice Department opens a criminal investigation of the company and state regulators’ relationship with it.

Evidence mounts that the company donated far more in campaign contributions to your party than to your political opponents in the election that put you in the governor’s mansion.

Given all this, it might be reasonable for you to expect somewhat aggressive questioning from reporters at a press conference less than two weeks after the spill.

But apparently not if you’re Gov. McPrickly.

From WRAL in Raleigh:

A winter storm news conference Friday took a tense turn when reporters pushed Gov. Pat McCrory for details on his response to the recent Dan River coal ash spill …

During the question-and-answer period after Friday’s winter storm update, McCrory took exception to a reporter’s question about whether he had communicated with Duke Energy or its lobbyists about his administration’s intervention into those lawsuits.

“I have had no conversations with Duke Energy about the lawsuits or about the federal action,” McCrory responded. “I think some of the premise of your question is totally inaccurate.”

Visibly irritated, he added that he would “have [DENR] Secretary [John] Skvarla give you a call and make some of those corrections.”

Another reporter asked the governor whether his ownership of Duke Energy stock creates a conflict or the appearance of a conflict of interest for him.

“In my 14 years as mayor of Charlotte and my one year as governor, I separate my job as governor, and I’m very proud of the job we’ve done as governor, and that regards to any company in North Carolina,” McCrory answered.   

When a reporter attempted to follow up, McCrory shouted him down. “Excuse me, sir! Excuse me, sir! You have not been recognized!”

When the reporter tried again, McCrory admonished him, “It’s no time to be disrespectful.”

A few things:

  • “It’s no time to be disrespectful” strongly echoes President Bush’s post-Katrina rejection of “the blame game,” doesn’t it?
  • When McCrory refers to “the job we’ve done as governor,” whom else does he imagine holds the title?
  • For those of you who haven’t followed the man’s career, this is authentic Pat McCrory—hypersensitive to any perceived challenge to his authoritah.

He was known for this as Charlotte’s mayor. When I covered the city for the Observer in 2006 and 2007, he struck me as extraordinarily tetchy for a guy who’d won (at the time) six straight mayoral elections.

Back then, during City Council meetings, two people in particular seemed to get under his skin, a pair of young, bright Democratic council members who’d just been elected: Anthony Foxx, now the nation’s Secretary of Transportation; and Michael Barnes, now Charlotte’s mayor pro tem. During one meeting, McCrory responded to a Barnes comment by yelling, in effect, It’s not your turn to speak! When you’re mayor, you can run the meetings! (I can’t recall the issue in question, probably a TOD overlay in Dilworth or something.)

Jeez, I recall thinking. Aren’t we irritable tonight? But that was then-Mayor Pat’s way—as engaging and likable as he could be, his ridge hairs stuck straight up when he encountered a threat to his control, and he began barking. Now that the stakes and his position have risen, he’s apparently reverting to old habits.

Thing is, though, it is time to be disrespectful, as it always is when authority displays rank lack of concern for anything but itself. That coal ash spill dumped poison in the drinking water of North Carolinians and Virginians, and the blame lies with Duke Energy and a state regulatory agency that’s failed for too long to do its job.

Given his long and lucrative association with the nation’s largest electric utility, Pat McCrory needs to be held to account for it—even if it costs him an interruption or two during a press conference.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest