CHARLOTTE, N.C. | Faced with increasing public criticism over GOP policies, Gov. Pat McCrory promised Saturday that he would continue to stand his ground and push for legislation that would promote his party's conservative ideals.
McCrory said that since he took office in January, special interest groups vowed to “fight us.”
“They were going to do everything they could to protect the status quo which got us into this mess,” the governor told delegates at the state GOP convention in Charlotte.
He said critics also have targeted the GOP leadership in Raleigh: House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger.
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“Let me tell you something. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have always been one of my favorite groups. One of my favorite songs is `I Won't Back Down.’ Tom Tillis won't back down. Phil Berger won't back down. The Senate and the House won't back down. We want to change the status quo in state government and change this economy. That's what we're going to do.”
This was the first state GOP convention since McCrory was elected governor.
In November, the GOP wrested control of both houses of the General Assembly away from Democrats for the first time since Reconstruction. McCrory is the state's first Republican governor in 20 years.
The GOP has been pushing through legislation promoting conservative policies, and that has led to protests by civil rights and other groups.
The NAACP has organized near-weekly demonstrations inside the state legislative building that have led to hundreds of arrests since April.
Though the NAACP imitated the protests, their ranks have been swelled by left-leaning clergy, doctors, advocates for the disabled and others protesting cuts to social programs, changes to voting laws and other issues championed by Republicans. Protesters are also rankled that state lawmakers have decided to forego expanding Medicaid to cover 500,000 people through 2016, even though it would be mostly federally funded.
NAACP leaders, who point to national media coverage the demonstrations are starting to attract, say the protesters will return next week.
McCrory warned that outside groups were helping stir up trouble.
“Outsiders are coming in and they're going to try to do to us what they did to Scott Walker in Wisconsin,” he said referring to that state's governor. Walker and Republican legislators in Wisconsin passed a contentious law in 2011 that stripped most state workers' collective bargaining rights. The law sparked massive protests at the state Capitol that generated national publicity for Walker. “They are going to come in and try to change the subject. And I'm not going to let them. I'm going to concentrate on the economy, education and government efficiency.”
Ben Ray, the state Democratic Party's rapid response director, criticized McCrory's comments.
“Governor McCrory's attitude is everything wrong with Raleigh. He's joined Phil Berger and Thom Tillis to reject health care for 500,000 North Carolinians and is embracing a deeply unpopular legislature that works for special interests, not North Carolina families,” he said.
He added that it was hypocritical for McCrory to say outside groups were targeting North Carolina.
“Pat McCrory had more than $5 million spent on his behalf by outside groups in 2012. Accusing North Carolinians opposed to his special interest-driven agenda of being outsiders is rank hypocrisy,” he said.
Several state GOP leaders also addressed the convention-goers, including Tillis, who announced less than two weeks ago that he'll run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Kay Hagan.
Tillis is a four-term legislator from suburban Charlotte who has led the House since 2011.
Physician Greg Brannon of Cary is the only other publicly announced GOP in the Senate race.
Tillis criticized Hagan, saying she's too liberal for North Carolina.
“How many people think that we need a cheerleader for Barack Obama?” he asked.
He also said that the party has to unite behind the winner of next year's GOP senate primary.
“We're going to have to have a primary. Primaries are good. That's how I got here. And after the primaries are completed, we'll come together and that candidate who comes out in May is the candidate that we all have to get behind,” he said.