It wasn’t formal and, quite frankly, it wasn’t even political when Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory sat down to lunch with a room teeming with Sampson County women Wednesday. Instead it was informative, a remarked echoed by nearly every woman who made her way to Coharie Country Club for the luncheon.
Many of those same women peppered the former Charlotte mayor with questions, ranging from education to health care and a myriad of other topics, all which he answered during the Q&A session.
The relaxed McCrory arrived early for the luncheon and mingled with the nearly standing room only crowd, stopping at every table to chat, shake hands and smile good-naturedly as camera after camera was pointed his way.
“I enjoy this,” he said to a table filled with pre-teens, most there with their mothers to meet what may be North Carolina’s next governor. “Being able to come out and talk with young people like you is special, to listen to what you have to say is important, and I intend to do just that.”
He emphasized that during his remarks, saying he truly was interested in what women had to say and, just as importantly, he was interested in getting them involved, as much in the process of state government as in his election bid.
“I am honored to be here in Clinton and with you,” he stressed toward the end of the Q&A. “The truth is, I need your help, I need you to become engaged, not just for me but for this state. This (luncheon) is not about Democrats, Independents or Republicans, it’s about encouraging you to be involved in the process. You see the decisions that will be made by state and national leaders will be crucial to the next generation, and you need a say … you need to be involved. That generation is one of the things I care about the most, why I’m running for governor. It’s why you need to be involved, having a say in their future.”
He stressed that involvement throughout the event, as did Anne Faircloth who, along with Deborah Johnson and Ann Butler hosted the women’s luncheon which was billed not so much as a political event but rather as an opportunity to hold a conversation with McCrory.
“I’m excited to see so many women turn out to hear his plans and visions for North Carolina, and I’m especially excited to see so many young women here,” Faircloth stressed.
Before introducing McCrory, Faircloth said she supported his bid for governor because he was a man who believed, as she did, in trying to give citizens the tools they needed to achieve and the freedom to succeed, with fewer regulations and more innovation.
“… he believes in giving us the freedoms we need to be the best citizens for North Carolina we can be,” Faircloth said, as McCrory made his way to the front of the club house. Before sitting down with campaign co-chairwoman Aldona Wos, McCrory offered first a vote of confidence to Faircloth and then a thank you to all those who’d come out to share the meal and the conversation with him.
“I think I just decided to vote for Anne Faircloth,” he joked as he thanked her, Johnson and Butler for hosting the event. “I’ve always been very impressed with Anne and her comments were right on the mark,” he stressed before moving right into short remarks.
“I’m really not here to give a speech, I’m here to listen,” he said, joining Wos in chairs positioned at the front of the room.
He talked briefly about North Carolina’s high unemployment rate, saying being ranked fifth in the nation wasn’t good and it was something that needed great attention.
“Our state is facing extremely challenging times right now,” McCrory stressed. “I love this state. To me, there’s no better state than North Carolina, but it’s not the North Carolina I grew up in right now, it’s not the state that once had unlimited potential. My goal is to make it so again. To make us number one in employment not fifth in unemployment. It will take the private sector to get us out of this recession.”
McCrory said for the state to grow, the focus needed to return to building, growing, producing and innovating. With those things, he stressed, there would be revenue to pay teachers, firemen, police officers and others.
He emphasized the need to treat businesses as customers and to work hard to provide citizens the tools they needed to succeed.
“It’s why I’m running for governor because I believe we can return to those things and I believe we can return North Carolina to the state it used to be.”
A myriad of questions were thrown his way, including the feasibility of a new port in Southport. He favors, he said, looking for niches for existing ports before expanding another, pointing out that there was no money nor infrastructure to support the project.
Questioned on education, McCrory pointed to his belief that too many people were being forced into thinking a four-year college degree was the only way to be successful. “It’s one pathway to success, and a good one,” he stressed, “but it’s not the only one. The other pathway is through solid vocational training, something that needs to be in our schools.”
McCrory pointed to statistics that showed 1 out of every 5 students were not graduating in the state, a fact he believes stems from young people being forced into career paths “that do not meet their talents and goals.”
He also stressed the importance of working to spend educational dollars where it would benefit students the most. “Education isn’t about budgets, it should be about the kids, providing them the right skills and ensuring that they get jobs.”
He turned briefly to teacher pay, saying he supported paying “the best teachers more money,” rewarding those who produce the most. And at the same time, he said, it was important to share, through technology, those best teachers with schools across the state.
“We’ve got to think out of the box, understanding that we had better share the best teachers we have with everyone if we hope to compete.”
On healthcare, he shared his disappointment he what he called the current state administration’s active silence on the issue. “We should not be sitting on the sidelines, but I think we are. I plan to go to work immediately on a plan where the state would put pressure on the federal government to change what they passed and read it this time around.”
In one of his few political statements, McCrory then added that getting himself and likely GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney into office would help ensure that they could overturn Obamacare, a statement that brought rousing applause from nearly every woman in the audience.
Questioned on the state’s death tax, McCrory said he didn’t support it and would, if elected, eliminate it. “That tax is hurting people, particularly those in agriculture. It is making people shut down small businesses because they can’t afford to transfer it to their families and that’s not right.”
And, after being asked, he shared his strong support of requiring voters to have a photo ID, saying he didn’t believe in disenfranchising voters but rather in ensuring that the process was legitimate and not tainted in any way.
“Look, you have to show ID to get pseudoephederine; you have to show an ID to get in the governor’s mansion. I think if it’s good enough for the governor’s mansion then surely it should be good enough for voters. What this does is protect the right to vote and the integrity of voting.”
And while he had no real answer to a question on the state’s mental health issues, he stressed the importance of finding solutions that didn’t leave all the responsibility, and no funding, on the backs of counties, law enforcement and local hospitals. “Next to the economy, it is the most difficult issue we face, mental health and addiction. I don’t have the answers, but I know we have a broken system and I will work hard to help fix it.”
Before leaving, McCrory stressed again the need for women across the state to become active participants in the political process.
“We need your thoughts, we need your voice … we need you engaged,” he said.