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New governor launches state tour in Asheville, visits Charlotte on Wednesday
By Jim Morrill
ASHEVILLE — With the Blue Ridge mountains as a backdrop, new North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory kicked off a statewide tour Monday, pledging to “listen and learn” – and then get to work.
McCrory made his first appearance outside Raleigh as governor before more than 300 people gathered in a mountainside pavilion. It was the first stop of a tour that will take him to Greensboro and New Bern on Tuesday and Charlotte on Wednesday.
“What we want to do this week is visit the rest of the state and listen and learn,” he announced. “This is not just to have a speech; it’s to have a dialogue.”
McCrory, Charlotte’s former mayor, was sworn in Saturday. He’ll deliver his inaugural address this Saturday, capping a weekend of balls and a parade.
Before he went to Asheville, McCrory issued his first executive order Monday, repealing a nonpartisan judicial nominating commission put in place by his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.
At a news conference in Raleigh, he said the commission didn’t work, noting that even Perdue rescinded the order in the final weeks of her term to fill a vacancy on the N.C. Supreme Court.
In Asheville, it was a relaxed, even buoyant, McCrory who greeted citizens and public officials from western North Carolina. He stood in a sort of receiving line, exchanging hugs and handshakes.
The audience included Republicans, Democrats, independents, and even one man who protested with a bullhorn at one of McCrory’s earlier visits to Asheville.
Barry Summers mentioned that to McCrory when he greeted him Monday night. He’s a leader of a group fighting to save Asheville’s water system from being taken over by another government entity.
“I was the obnoxious guy with the bullhorn,” Summers told McCrory.
McCrory “said he thought it was great,” Summers recounted later. “He appreciated us being there.”
‘So much urgency to do something’
In public remarks, McCrory said he is eager to get to work.
“There’s so much urgency to do something right now,” he said. “There are people hurting, trying to keep their homes, their jobs …. We have got to learn to work together. We have to learn to dialogue, to have respect. And that’s what we’re going to do right now.”
After speaking, McCrory headed into a nearby building to meet with U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-Cherryville, and about three dozen other elected officials. He plans to do the same on his other stops this week.
Some officials, even Democrats, said they look forward to working with North Carolina’s first Republican governor in 20 years.
“We certainly give Gov. McCrory the benefit of the doubt,” said David Gantt, chairman of the Buncombe County commissioners. “With the governor’s municipal experience, we feel we’ve got a real good opportunity to stop the over-reaching of the General Assembly.”
Introducing McCrory, Asheville’s Democratic Mayor Terry Bellamy recalled how she had once joined him in a caravan of city officials to Raleigh to lobby for law-enforcement resources.
“I know he ‘gets it,’ ” she said. “I know he understands public safety. I know he understands transportation. I know he understands water.”
McCrory seemed to bask in what he called “the joy of the moment.” At one point he asked everyone to turn toward the mountains, shrouded in twilight.
“This is the best of North Carolina, right here,” he said.
Chief lobbyist named
At a morning news conference, McCrory named former Republican lawmaker Fred Steen of Rowan County as his chief lobbyist, charged with getting the legislature to implement his agenda.
McCrory also said that former Duke Energy colleague Tony Almeida will serve as a senior policy adviser on the economy in the governor’s office. Almeida is a former vice president of economic development at Duke.
John Frank of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.