Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My weekend with Pat McCrory

A political nerd like myself couldn't have asked for a better weekend.

This weekend was the NC Young Republican convention, and lucky for me, it was held right here in Greensboro.  That's right... two days of politics, politics, and MORE politics with people who more or less share my beliefs.

Friday was mostly going to be a meet and greet social event for convention attendees.  I was planning on going over after work and spending most of the evening driinking and conversing with other Repubs -- until I got a text message sometime around 2 PM.  A friend of mine (who happens to work for the McCrory campaign) had texted me to let me know that Pat McCrory was going to downtown to speak at the NC College Republican convention dinner later that night, and he wanted to know if I wanted to meet him.

Seriously?  I was probably a little more excited than your average person would have been to get such an offer.

Okay.  A LOT more excited.

Five hours later, I met Mayor McCrory at the downtown Marriott.  Now, I've met a lot of politicians in my day, and regardless of how much I admire/support them, they all seem to share a common falseness about them.  Maybe it's my own cynicism (what, me a cynic?  Noooo...), but I dare say 95% of all politicians appear to be in a constant "campaigning mode" at all times.  It's not necessarily a terrible thing, just something I've come to expect.  So imagine my shock and amazement when Pat McCrory, the mayor of the largest city in North Carolina and very possibly our next governor, did NOT have that trait.

My friend introduced me to Mayor McCrory, and instead of going into some spiel about why he's running, he actually acted like a normal human being.  It did catch me a little off-guard, I'll admit, but it was... oh my God, so REFRESHING.  He's such a genuinely nice person, I don't think it's possible to talk to this guy and not like him (unless you're running against him, but we'll get to that bitterness later).

His speech during dinner was flawless.  He focused on the fact that the Democrats in Raleigh have gotten so used to be in charge that they've let the power go to their heads (he referred to them as "Machiavellian", which I found awesome along with being completely true).  They're so busy trying to get more and more power for themselves that they've completely forgotten the people who got them where they are.  As Mayor McCrory said, "The moment that you start believing it's all about you is the moment you forget that it's really all about public service."

Because he was speaking to a room filled with College Republicans, McCrory likened the point to college politics.  He urged them to expand their political horizons by hanging out with people who may share different political beliefs.  If we only associate with people we agree with, he pointed out, we'll never learn the other side of our arguments.

Does anyone really need to question why I love this man?

McCrory then went on to tell everyone about his three major issues: Crime (with a particular emphasis on illegal immigrants), transportation, and education.  I particularly loved the comment he made about education in NC.  He pointed out that money was not well-distributed within the university system, and that we should start rewarding universities that have majors which are more likely to get jobs for graduates (you have to admit, that's a gutsy thing to say in a room which is probably full of liberal arts majors -- and that's coming from a political science graduate!).  But he did make a great point: if the taxpayers are expected to help pay for higher education, then they should expect their money to go towards an education that is needed within the community and that will assist graduates in finding a career later on.  He reminded us that this plan is "fair for both the taxpayer and the student."

He closed his speech by reminding everyone that we need to get the Democrats out of Raleigh, and that he was the most electable candidate.

Overall, it was a great speech, and the audience seemed to think so as well (with the exception of a couple of anti-McCrory UNCG students who were sitting next to me -- they wisely chose to not tell me who their gubernatorial choice is, which is a good thing because I have no doubt that I know more about the candidates than they do... they just aren't interested in McCrory because he didn't spent 10 minutes talking about the evils of homosexuality in NC).

Saturday was fun, aside from having to actually wake up on a Saturday.  There were classes on campaigning tips, a luncheon with speeches from multiple NC GOP candidates, and several different groups and candidates with stations in the lobby.  It was there that I learned to never, ever let a table full of Ron Paul fanatics being headed up by an old man in a white suit and brown crocodile shoes that you supported Ron Paul.  I'll really never get rid of all this literature.  I also discovered another candidate that I really like, BJ Lawson, who's running in the 4th district.  Lawson seems to me another Paul-esque candidate, meaning he focuses on sticking to the Constitution (imagine that!) and attracts many Libertarian followers.  Lawson's campaign manager and I had a great talk about whether or not libertarian-minded Republicans should stay in the party and attempt to change it from the inside, or completely branch off into a 3rd party.  I informed him that I refer to myself as a Republitarian, to which he responded, "I love you".  He then apologized to Matt, who is just getting used to it, as this is the second time in about two months this has happened.

The big event of the convention was Saturday night: the Republican gubernatorial debate.  Howard Coble officiated the event, and he opened by reminding us that we actually have a chance to elect a Republican governor this year.  One of the main reasons for this, he supposed, is that "we're not having food fights like the Democrats -- and we will benefit from their squabling."

Each of the four candidates was given the opportunity to deliver a 2 minute answer to each of the 5 questions asked.  Luckily for McCrory, the first four questions focuses on four of his best issues -- illegal immigration and crime, transportation, education, and fiscal conservatism.

McCrory was the first to answer the first question, which asked what policies he would use as governor to fight crime and illegal immigration.  He responded by citing his experience as mayor of the largest city in NC, where not long ago the police had a shootout with an El Salvadorian gang ("Luckily, they missed and we didn't," he states).  He also stated that he planning to demand of the new president that an illegal immigration detention center be built in NC.  The closest center to us right now is in Atlanta, and our inability to easily transport illegals there is putting a strain on our jails, which also puts a strain on our police.  McCrory also wants to completely do away with our willingness to hand out licenses to illegals in NC, as well as work on gang legislation that would implement longer sentences for criminals found to be involved in gangs.

Because McCrory spoke first, the other three candidates spent most of their time criticizing his answer.  Bob Orr and Fred Smith jumped on the fact that McCrory wanted to pass more legislation, when the real problem was that the current laws weren't being enforced.  None of them  really gave any solution as to HOW they would insure those laws were enforced if they became governor.  The only exception was Bill Graham who argued that gang legislation DOES help, and that building more jails would hep solve the problem of "revolving door" sentences in NC (a point that I've heard McCrory address in previous debates.)

The next question asked the candidates what they would do about NC's transportation problems.  All four candidates agreed that there needed to be a major overhaul in the leadership of the DOT -- but only McCrory wanted to outline a 50 year transportation plan.  Not only that, but he wants to focus building where the cars and motor vehicle accidents are -- not "where the powerful politicians are" -- and he thinks that only after the plan has been laid out should the citizens of NC vote on it.

Next, the candidates were asked to explain how they would fix the education system in NC.  Both Smith and Graham listed generic and vague ways that the system could be amended by taking the "disruptions" out of classrooms and using "local innovations" to make learning more efficient.  McCrory pointed out that going back to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, rather than strictly preparing our kids for one-size-fits-all testing, would benefit everyone in the long run.  He then urged that we put the "tech" back into technical and vocational schools, as technical jobs are in such high demand.  He reminded everyone that "not every student needs nor wants a four year degree" so we shouldn't be treating them all as if they're on a college-bound track.

It's at this time that Graham requested a rebuttal, although I'm not sure what he was rebutting.  In fact, he didn't seem to be in disagreement with McCrory's stance at all, so we have to assume that he only wanted an extra minute to finish a thought that he hadn't gotten to earlier.  Later, a fellow McCrory supporter suggested to me that Graham had chosen that moment to rebut because McCrory had aced the education question, and he was trying to save face.

The fourth question was a two-parter: Are you a fiscal conservative, and what area needs new vision in NC?  Of course, all four candidates answered that they were fiscally conservative, except for Fred Smith who apparently couldn't get a handle on the word "fiscal" and kept claiming to be "physically" conservative.  It wouldn't have even been so noticeable if it weren't for the fact that he kept saying it over and over again.  When it came time for McCrory to answer, he stated, "Well, where I come from, they don't tell me I'm fiscally conservative so much as they tell me I'm cheap."  He then went on to push the fact that he was the only candidate on stage who had the opportunity to use a veto, and he had used it several times against the Democrats in Charlotte.  He promised that he wouldn't hesitate to use it against the Democrats in Raleigh in order to keep our taxes down, and to limit waste.

The last question, in keeping with the theme of our convention ("Reclaiming the Reagan Legacy") was "As governor, how will you carry on the Reagan Legacy?"  At this point, I was tired of jotting down notes as fast as I could, so I decided to get some video of Pat McCrory's answer (sorry it's so dark, the lighting was horrible in there, but all you really need to do is listen):

And of course, following the final question, each candidate was given the opportunity to give a closing statement.  Here is McCrory's, in which he discusses the corruption that is taking place in Raleigh under the Democrats in power:

You can't tell me that man's not a great speaker.

All in all, a great weekend.  I'm going to be posting some more pictures from it on Facebook the next time I great a free chance.  Until then, this picture of myself with the next governor of NC will just have to tide you over:

Yes, I was WAY too excited about that.

No comments: