Relations between North Carolina's governor and the General Assembly have run hot and cold through the years, depending on personalities, politics and debated policies.
So it's not surprising that new Gov. Pat McCrory and fellow Republican legislative leaders disagree at times, even after they predicted they would get along when GOP-controlled government arrived in 2013. Democrats had partisan dustups and budget battles when they controlled all levers of power, too.
What's different now is the lines have often been drawn between the two chambers, with the governor on one side.
Several substantial matters have set House Republicans and McCrory against Republican leaders in the Senate. While a few slights have largely occurred behind the scenes, larger disagreements have played out publicly over the past few weeks on the state budget, the lease of the Dorothea Dix state mental hospital property to the City of Raleigh and competing tax overhaul plans.
There have "been some differences between the three parties, shall we say - House, Senate and governor - but we are talking. We are trying to work through it," said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.
But on several key issues, Apodaca said the governor was "definitely" siding with the House.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said he and other House Republicans were working closely with McCrory to help him succeed at a time when the GOP has an unprecedented opportunity to carry out its vision. Republican fortunes are likely to rise and fall with McCrory's popularity.
"We've got a governor we can trust," Tillis said, so "it's our responsibility to do everything we can to empower this governor."
McCrory dismissed questions about taking sides, saying in an interview with The Associated Press he's not playing favorites. He said he would likely take issue with the House version of the budget this month as he did the Senate plan, which left out several items the governor sought in his budget request. McCrory mentioned the first bill he signed into law - on vocational education - originated from the Senate.
"I'm not going to get into group politics because I'm going to deal with each individual issue as it relates to what my goals are as the governor, and regardless of where it comes from, I'll state where I agree or disagree," McCrory told the AP. Some lines of communication with individual legislators are stronger than others, he added, but "it'd be foolish of me to start pinpointing who's ahead with agreement."
The House last week voted overwhelmingly for a plan promoted by McCrory that used more carrots and fewer sticks than the Senate offered in its bill to renegotiate terms of a deal for Raleigh leaders to build a large park on the Dix campus. McCrory had previously held a news conference with Raleigh's mayor to promote the House proposal.
"We were never consulted one bit about it," Apodaca said.
A day after the Dix vote, McCrory identified two tax plans he preferred: One is penned by House Republicans and backed by Tillis and the other comes from a bipartisan group of senators. Left behind was a plan released a few weeks ago to great fanfare from Senate leader Phil Berger and top lieutenants. That proposal would make North Carolina's sales tax base among the broadest in the country. McCrory's pronouncement led to a scolding from the plan's chief author, Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg.
"If Pat had real business experience, he would not make such a poor policy decision," Rucho said. McCrory's office responded the governor hoped for "constructive dialogue" with legislators. But the exchange signaled more acrimony.
House leaders also plan to leave out from its budget substantive policy decisions unrelated to spending found in the Senate budget. McCrory said he wants to "separate the policy discussion from the budget discussion."
It's unusual but not unprecedented to see a governor side regularly with one chamber, said Ran Coble, executive director of the nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research.
Coble said that a generation ago Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt tended to side with the House because the Senate was led by intraparty rival Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green. In 1989, GOP-Gov. Jim Martin was more closely aligned with the House because its Republican members helped topple longtime Democratic Speaker Liston Ramsey. More recently, Gov. Mike Easley relied on the Senate because longtime ally Sen. Tony Rand was there.
The McCrory administration two weeks ago named former Apodaca staff member Nicole Hines as one of the governor's legislative lobbyists - a decision that could improve relations with the Senate. The governor's chief liaison is former House member Fred Steen. Apodaca points out state budget director Art Pope is also a former House member.
Democratic Rep. Mickey Michaux of Durham, a former chief budget-writer, said House Republicans are likely to stick closely to McCrory because he'll be a bargaining asset in negotiations. Even with his veto pen, McCrory won't be successful unless he shows he's willing to help the Senate, too, Michaux said. That could make final negotiations lengthen well into the summer.
"The governor's the one that's caught in the middle because he's going to have to appease both sides," Michaux said.
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