INTERVIEW: Gov. McCrory offers his views, amid protests at the Western Residence

MEET AND GREET: Governor Pat McCrory at the Western Residence hosting constituents during the Spring Open House. Photo by Able Allen

Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Governor’s Western Residence on Town Mountain. Governors and their spouses have traditionally opened the residence to the public twice a year — once in the spring when the rhododendrons are in full bloom, and once during the winter holidays. Last December’s gathering saw record attendance, according to a tour guide at this weekend’s open house. Last spring, though, a sporadic light rain resulted in sparse visitation and a relaxed feel, with few security personnel on hand. Anyone who wanted to tour the house could drive right up, park out front and stroll inside.

This spring’s gathering had a decidedly different tone. On Saturday, protesters lined Town Mountain Road and congregated in a yard across from the entrance to the residence, displaying signs criticizing the governor’s relationship with Duke Energy and supporting a range of causes including black rights, immigrant rights, transgender rights, workers rights and the rights of local governments.

At least 10 police vehicles from the Asheville Police Department and the state Highway Patrol separated protestors from the residence. Officers redirected visitors to the parking lot of the First Baptist Church, where they were required to pass through a metal detector before boarding a shuttle to ride back up the mountain to the house. One shuttle driver reported that the shuttling operation was a recent change in plans, based, at least partly, on the expected protest activities at this spring’s event. Outside the house at least four APD officers and at least five state law enforcement officers stood guard, while inside the house and throughout the grounds at least five plainclothes security personnel with visible holstered weapons circulated among the visitors. For someone who visited the house both last year and this spring, the increase in security this time was apparent.

Despite the security precautions, the charm of the Western Residence was on display, with rooms featuring a wide variety of art made by local craftspeople.  And Gov. Pat McCrory was on hand to engage visitors with a smile and a warm handshake. Most of those who conversed with him could be overheard speaking in support of his initiatives, and many praised him for his efforts to protect the people of North Carolina and to improve the economy. Refreshments were served on the back patio, where a view of Asheville in the valley below and Mount Pisgah in the distance framed a bucolic scene.

McCrory is proud of the fire pit that was added to the sloping lawn behind the residence during his time in office. It’s his favorite place to find peace, he says, when he is staying in the western part of the state. While seated there, he invited this reporter to sit and have a few words with him. We were almost immediately interrupted by Amy Hamilton, who said she was “with the media too, the Asheville Blade.” She spoke harshly to the governor, saying “These brownies won’t take the bitter taste of discrimination out of our mouths.” She went on to tell him that she hoped he would enjoy being voted out this fall. Before she was led away by the governor’s security personnel, the two had a brief exchange, in which McCrory made it clear he did not appreciate her interruption. He then turned to recommence our conversation.

Mountain Xpress: The western part of the state is culturally very different from the Piedmont and the eastern part of the state. What does that mean to you?
Gov. Pat McCrory: Resilience and independence that’s unique to our country, that’s what I notice here. There’s an independence, in fact almost a libertarian type of independence, of “Leave me alone, and let us enjoy life,” on both the right and the left. I might add, they all kind of merge together, especially in the Asheville area. Plus, there’s an outdoor spirit here, of enjoying the outdoors as much as possible, which I like. Especially the minute the weather gets good, you just see everyone come out of the woodwork.

I was here last year and it was a much different affair.

There were probably two or three security folks here at that time.
We actually had more than that last time.

Okay, there might have been, but it’s much more visible this time.
Well, the concern is: Protesters on both sides of the issue had stated they were going to come here. And actually up until [that incident moments ago], we’ve had none of that. People have been extremely respectful in conversation. I’ve actually had extremely good dialogue with people, on many different issues, while I’ve been up here, while overlooking the scenery of the west, while looking at Mount Pisgah. I think that was the first thing that ever occurred, where someone came and [spoke harshly].

I think the reason a lot the protestors are here is…
We actually haven’t had protestors.

Well they’re outside, at the road. There are a bunch of folks there with signs and everything. One reason they’re there is that the LGBT community, and especially the trans part of the community, feels disrespected. I know from your perspective the spirit of the law is about security and safety…
No, it’s actually more about respect for privacy. Expectation for privacy is the main issue I’m speaking of. And today, I’ve had some wonderful conversations, very respectful conversations and dialogue, with people who both agree with President Obama and … disagree with HB 2, and those on the opposite [side]. And in fact, it’s been more interesting watching the two converse with each other. And what I’m finding, too, is there is no monolithic one thought from either group. It’s a very complex issue. In fact [I was] talking to a group of people who are transgender and having my pictures taken with them and great dialog. In fact I’m going to have follow-up dialog with several of these people.

So that’s a great example of personal respect between you and them…
Absolutely. And, by the way, I want to say that’s true about the people who also agree [with HB 2]. Because there are people here of different opinions, and I’m not seeing people being disrespectful. There’s just this one instance where I’ve seen an individual just express frustration.

But do you think there’s a policy path for making that group feel respected?
Well, in the short term, because of the quick action of the Charlotte City Council, and even the Legislature, and now the president — in the short term, sadly it’s going to probably be resolved in the courts. In the long term, I think we have to have a clear dialog and understanding of the complexities of a new issue that’s come [to the] front in literally months. I mean this issue has never come up in my lifetime, in politics, up until literally three months ago. And I think that’s true with most people in America who weren’t talking about this issue three or four months ago. And all of the sudden, the media is focusing on it every single day in fact. The media wasn’t talking about this issue a year ago, you know?

Do you find that to be of value or a distraction?
Both. I think there’s been maybe too much weight put on this issue, in comparison to health care or addiction or to mental health or public transportation or education. But, it’s an issue you can’t avoid, and I think what’s happened is that this was an issue that no one was talking about and just letting kind of happen. And in fact some would say: Many people are looking for a solution in which the problem has yet to be defined. I said that yesterday on NPR radio, that I thought Charlotte was trying to find a solution to a problem that had not been defined. During my 14 years there as mayor, this issue had never come up. But it was brought up by more of a national group bringing this to North Carolina than North Carolina bringing this to the nation.

Except now, North Carolina has kind of brought this conversation to the nation.
No, actually it was a national group that brought it to North Carolina. In fact, the [Human Rights Campaign] told me they were going to make North Carolina the epicenter of the transgender movement for the United States of America, so it was strategically brought to North Carolina by a very powerful, national organization, which they’ve got the best political machine I’ve ever seen, and [the best] media machine I’ve ever seen, called the HRC.

So does that kind of bring it back to a centralization versus decentralization argument?
Yeah, I don’t think we’ve resolved that issue. I actually think, from a civil rights standpoint, the federal government’s responsible for the overall civil rights. And I’ve said before, I think the 1964 Civil Rights bill needs to be updated and discussed to include many issues that are being addressed at the local state levels in a hodgepodge of ways. I think it’s not good for the country, for every city and every state to have different discrimination laws. It’s caused confusion, inconsistency in application, and I think that’s harmful to the nation. And my dilemma with the federal government right now is that the president’s making all the decisions and his job is not to make law, but to enforce law. And I think all three branches of government have to be a part of this discussion, not just the executive branch. The executive branch, by the way, has suddenly brought this issue up. I don’t remember the president ever bringing this issue up during his campaign. [laughs]

It wasn’t really in the spotlight then, was it?
No. No, in fact, when [Obama] ran for re-election he was against gay marriage, and now we’re being lectured by his attorney general on an issue — that was definitely not at the forefront — a short time later, which is unique for me. Even today, I’ve had discussions where I get continued information and education on a very complex issue — about gender identity, gender expression and other terms that, frankly, I’m not sure we’re allowed to use anymore.

Xpress is actually looking at doing a story on terminology and definitions.
Because right now this debate’s about gender identity and I’d say probably 90 percent of the nation has no idea what we’re talking about.

It’s definitely a teaching moment, isn’t it?
And the media is using these terms and coming to conclusions when they have yet to define [them]. So the media hasn’t actually been responsible in this debate either. I think, frankly, the media has already come to a conclusion; but, boy, the nation hasn’t come to a conclusion because I go from one group of people to another and there’s just an extremely huge divide on this issue and I’m talking about within the towns, including even here this afternoon I’ve had people come up to me and go “Thank you, you hang in there, don’t budge,” and I’ve had other people come and go, “I’ll make sure you never get elected again.”

The issue has been incredibly divisive.
And it’s extremely quick how this came up through the coordinated campaign. And it was a well coordinated campaign.

Thank you very much for your time.

Governor McCrory and Mathew Ensley in rapt conversation as security looks on. Photo by Able Allen
Governor McCrory and Mathew Ensley in rapt conversation as security looks on. Photo by Able Allen

Immediately after McCrory finished this interview, he was engaged in an earnest and tense discussion by Hamilton’s partner, Matthew Ensley, for several minutes while security stood close by. Although a dozen or so people looked on from the patio, few could hear. Ensley left the conversation clearly emotionally distraught.

Ensley said he had come that day in hopes of being able to have a discussion with the governor, but that it wasn’t satisfying. “He smiled and said some really offensive stuff. It’s hard standing there telling him my concerns and having him smiling and saying ‘thanks for coming,'” Ensley explained. Ensley, who had been part of the protest outside the event earlier in the day, says one of his chief concerns is for trans children, but that McCrory had insisted, “Those aren’t little girls.” Ensley has volunteered with TranzMission, a local transgender/queer rights group, but he said it was a struggle to try to make his points to McCrory “as a cis, white man, when I can’t imagine how a trans-woman feels.”

Ensley then boarded a shuttle van with other visitors — some of whom supported the governor and some didn’t. But they all rode down the mountain, back to Asheville, together.

Editor’s note: David Forbes of the Asheville Blade has clarified that Amy Hamilton was not at the event on behalf of the Blade. While she has written an opinion piece for the Blade, she is not a journalist for them generally. —05/26/16


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About Able Allen
Able studied political science and history at Warren Wilson College. He enjoys travel, dance, games, theater, blacksmithing and the great outdoors. Follow me @AbleLAllen

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33 thoughts on “INTERVIEW: Gov. McCrory offers his views, amid protests at the Western Residence

  1. The Real World

    “it was a national group that brought it to North Carolina. In fact, the [Human Rights Campaign] told me they were going to make North Carolina the epicenter of the transgender movement for the United States of America, so it was strategically brought to North Carolina by a very powerful, national organization, which they’ve got the best political machine I’ve ever seen, and [the best] media machine I’ve ever seen, called the HRC.” — anyone who’s been stomping around this planet for a few decades, and paying attention, would have recognized that this was an orchestrated event. Planned and produced with all the appropriate triggers in place and the media happily complying with whatever they were fed by the puppetmasters of this drama.

    Time to wake up, folks. We live in a VERY manipulated world. Don’t buy everything the slick salespeople want to sell you.

    “I think the 1964 Civil Rights bill needs to be updated and discussed to include many issues that are being addressed at the local state levels in a hodgepodge of ways. I think it’s not good for the country, for every city and every state to have different discrimination laws. It’s caused confusion, inconsistency in application, and I think that’s harmful to the nation.” — I agree with this. Time to update the Civil Rights Bill and having some national uniformity is valuable for all.

    Nice article, Mountain X. It provides a more comprehensive picture of what’s been happening.

    • LateRoTheParty

      ..and we all know the HRC is a pawn of the Illuminati…or was it the Gnomes of Zurich? Regardless, avoid the kool aid and keep the tin foil hat in position! It’s in the tooth!!!!!

  2. Robert Whhite

    This politician obviously does not give a damn about the damages he has done. He would rather party that fix what is happening to NC because of one of the stupidest things I have ever read about. I do not like smirking at all.

  3. Jon

    What a softball fluff piece. This is a disappointing interview to say the least.
    I’m assuming you give Pat a kiss and a hug as well? Nice job.

    • chops

      Agreed. This interview, and these questions were not revealing. There was a real missed opportunity here to hold the Governor accountable for his racists remarks and bigoted acts.

      • Able Allen

        It’s my job to present the experience and attempt to capture the situation. In this interview I was giving the Governor the opportunity to express the way he sees this issue. That is how the media helps the public hold those in power accountable; by making the lines clear. If you are looking for a journalist who is motivated by attacking and who is trying to force a particular agenda into the conversation, you came to the wrong place.
        I found what he said to be revelatory because he is clear about feeling embattled by the HRC specifically and by the media in general. He believes most of the public supports him on HB 2. He, like many of his supporters, feels that the public doesn’t have the tools for a conversation on the rights of transgender people. You don’t think that’s important?
        I’m curious: what would you ask him, given the chance? And more importantly, how do you think he would answer?

        • chops

          When he said, “We actually haven’t had protestors.” I think it would have been fun to ask him if those people outside are protesters.

        • chops

          Also, he kind of plays himself as the victim. When he says ” it was a national group that brought it to North Carolina”, it would be interesting to hear him explain why they targeted North Carolina. Why is NC (in particular) the victim of this attack?

          • Able Allen

            Thanks for the response, Chops. I appreciate your feedback. Your second idea for a question is strong indeed. I would like to hear what the Governor would say about why the HRC chose to make “North Carolina the epicenter of the transgender movement for the United States of America.” I would also like to hear the HRC take on that statement.

        • Huhsure

          Ok, I’ll give it a shot. I think they are rather reserved, given the offensive bigotry embodied in HB2.

          Governor, you talk about how the focus of HB2’s bathroom provision is on privacy for women and children, in effect equating the transgender population with sexual predators. (There are already laws on the books in NC that outlaw that kind of predatory behavior, so HB2 is not ‘fixing a gap’ in existing law or some vulnerability caused by the Charlotte ordinance.) What have you done to educate yourself on the science behind transgenderism? If you have made an effort to educate yourself, do you believe still that privacy is a valid raison d’etre for HB2? Do you believe that transgenderism is sexual deviance, or that transgendered individuals are sexual predators? If you haven’t familiarized yourself with the scientific work around transgenderism, why haven’t you?

          Governor, HB2 strips away the right to sue for discrimination in the state courts of NC based upon not only gender identity, but sexual orientation, race, and age. What was the reasoning behind taking away this recourse from all NC citizens, nullifying “30 years of common-law precedent”? In fact, because of HB2, employers can fire an employee for refusing to break the law for the company, and that employee no longer has recourse in state courts. How does this benefit the state and its residents?

          Governor, you spend a lot of time complaining about the media coverage and the “coordinated effort” of LGBT groups. But given the recent examples of discriminatory state laws targeting the LGBT community becoming PR nightmares for state executives, with nation-wide protests and boycotts, why didn’t you foresee the blowback?

          Governor, given that members of the transgender community are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence, what do you plan to do to help this vulnerable community? Would you sign a law specifically crafted to protect these citizens, who are now unquestionably more imperiled due to HB2 forcing them to use restrooms that do not align with their gender identity?

          Governor, how will HB2’s bathroom provisions be enforced? What is a valid means of identifying transgressors?

          Governor, are you aware that the transgender population “using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity” has been the status quo for generations in NC, and in the country at large?

        • Huhsure

          Governor, if HB2 was crafted, as some say, to correct municipal overreach, why did you not instead sign a law that extends the protections in the Charlotte ordinance to the transgendered community across the entire state? Why did you instead sign a law that implicitly does the opposite?

          • Peter Robbins

            This is the

            This is the $64,000 question. Why didn’t the Legislature extend civil-rights protections to the LGBT community statewide and why didn’t it leave in place a cause of action in state court to enforce them? No pressure group forced the Legislature to leave these people unprotected. Nothing Charlotte did forced these exclusions. These exclusions have nothing to do with restrooms or locker rooms. They simply reflect the Legislature’s lack of concern for its citizens.

  4. Peter Robbins

    The Governor doesn’t really appreciate the Western residence. Let’s invite someone else next year.

    • bsummers

      But that would mean electing someone el….

      Oh, I see what you did there.

      • Peter Robbins

        Oh, Barry, you spoiler. Mr. Snazzy Suit was still trying to figure it out.

  5. The Real World

    Guess I’m really not surprised by these comments. But, it’s just very sad that people get handed their viewpoint by other entities, they don’t question whatever they’re fed and become the cheerleaders for the given issue they’ve never applied any critical thought to. And when provided important background info about how this thing REALLY came about they ignore it like it’s not real and continue to cheerlead. Good grief, they own your brain; you let them.

    Here’s the short of it: a powerful lobbying group in Wash DC, the “Human Rights Campaign” (HRC), selected North Carolina for a political hatchet job. They used a demographic (trans-genders) as their tool and set-up this state as their national whipping post. Their campaign was well-funded, planned and executed. The media totally complied and Obama / Dept of Justice were lined up to launch accordingly (see connections in link below). And the HRC has more up-their-sleeve, I feel sure.

    Residents of this state ought to be angry about this! And, trans-gender people — I feel for you because you’ve been used. HRC knew this would go against you. What an uncivil way to advance a cause!

    Gee, it gets worse. Here’s the guy that co-founded “Human Rights Campaign”.

    Wow, you can’t make this stuff up. A real sweetie, that guy. And, yes, a year or so later the charges against him were dropped — b/c the juvenile defendant declined to testify (amid reports of large sums of $$$ changing hands).

    Ugh, I hope I’m not the only one that feels like taking a shower because of this whole orchestrated mess.

    • chops

      I wonder why the HRC selected North Carolina and not say,… New York State?

    • Carp

      So, considering the intentions were so obvious to everyone, and that this event was indeed orchestrated, what reason does the NCGA have for falling into the trap by passing HB2? Given that by your account everyone should have been aware of the impending blowback.

      • chops

        The Real World is suggesting the reason is that the NCGA is just gullible. Well, more gullible than those NYC liberals, for example.
        It’s totally not because North Carolina has any kind of history of restricting civil rights, or predisposition for being out-of-touch with the modern world and basic anti-discrimination policies.

        • The Real World

          chops –
          #1 – don’t speak for me. You’re welcome to pose any clarifying question you like and I’ll answer for myself.
          #2 – I wasn’t referring to merely the NCGA — rather the region.
          #3 – Regarding your last paragraph, I offer a resounding, Welcome to the Bible Belt! If you want faster change I recommend moving outside the Belt. And speaking of stuck in mental ruts: see Luther’s comment below.

          • The Real World

            It occurs to me that you all might be interested in this — if your minds are open.
            The way to ensure your goal is to work both sides of the deal.
            I don’t know if this strategy applies in this situation but very possibly it did.
            I figure HRC intended this outcome and helped engineer it to happen.

            This is a good film and listen closely to Krasinski towards the end and you’ll see how slick these lobbyist types can be.

          • chops

            Rule #1. The Real World doesn’t want anyone speaking for them.
            Rule #2. See what I did there?

          • luther blissett

            “speaking of stuck in mental ruts: see Luther’s comment below.”

            Like what? If you have a specific objection to my comment, then spell it out instead of talking in circumlocutions and euphemisms like a plantation heiress.

            The exterior and gardens of the Governor’s Western Residence are maintained by state prisoners who are paid less than a dollar a day for their labor, all under the watchful eye of corrections officers with shotguns. I hope McCrory thanked them for his sweet new fire pit.

          • The Real World

            “instead of talking in circumlocutions and euphemisms like a plantation heiress.” OMG – that’s awesome, I love it. If I was Southern I might accept your label (just to be able to be called an heiress of anything — but don’t much like the plantation thing)

            C’mon, you only had one sentence below, it should be obvious what I meant. “Was that built with prison labor” — I do not get the obsession of some here to still be living in the 1800’s. I don’t object to your comment but, yeah, it’s stuck in a mental rut.

            Ahem, it was built in 1939 by a private citizen and 25 years later DONATED to the state. So hmmm, are you SURE about the current landscaping prisoners, Luther? Or does it just fit the rut.

          • The Real World

            Bring on the prison labor. Work is good and if they’d focused on that, instead of committing crimes, they wouldn’t have ended up where they are. Their choice, their consequence. More interestingly (except not really):

            Who is Luther Blissett? — Birth of a Folk Hero

            “Luther Blissett” is a multi-use name, an “open reputation” informally adopted and shared by hundreds of artists and social activists all over Europe since Summer 1994. For reasons that remain unknown, the name was borrowed from a 1980’s British soccer player of Afro-Caribbean origins.
            In Italy, between 1994 and 1999, the so-called Luther Blissett Project (an organized network within the open community sharing the “Luther Blissett” identity) became an extremely popular phenomenon, managing to create a legend, the reputation of a folk hero.
            This Robin Hood of the information age waged a guerrilla warfare on the cultural industry, ran unorthodox solidarity campaigns for victims of censorship and repression and – above all – played elaborate media pranks as a form of art, always claiming responsibility and explaining what bugs they had exploited to plant a fake story. Blissett was active also in other countries, especially in Spain and Germany.
            December 1999 marked the end of the LBP’s Five Year Plan. All the “veterans” committed a symbolic seppuku (samurai ritual suicide). The end of the LBP did not entail the end of the name, which keeps re-emerging in the cultural debate and is still a popular byline on the web.”

            Well, how charming, all of that. /sarc

          • luther blissett

            I believe what you meant to say there was “I apologize, you were right, I was wrong, next time I think twice and type once.” Ciao!

          • Able Allen

            Y’all need to keep the conversation a little more civil, please and thank you.

  6. The Real World

    They picked a state where they were likely to achieve this outcome (and probably had the people in place to nudge it along). There are many other states they could have selected as well.

    Upper half or two-thirds of NY State is largely conservative. The NY City metro is distinctly more liberal and well, don’t shoot the messenger here, they are much more inclined to question what they get fed. Much more. Would not have been a slam dunk there.

  7. luther blissett

    “McCrory is proud of the fire pit that was added to the sloping lawn behind the residence during his time in office.”

    Was that built with prison labor, like all of the other landscaping at the Western Residence?

  8. Jay

    It’s about time we close down the Western Governors Residence. Put it up for sale. Too much waste fraud and abuse. The Governor needs to live up to his Republican values.


    Able, this is a TERRIFIC interview and story. Your questions were tough, pointed, and respectful. Very professional journalism. Thank you so much!

  10. Amy Hamilton

    Clarification: I was not reporting for the Asheville Blade. I participated in the protests and that was the specific reason for my attendance. I will be writing commentary about this event but not as a reporter. Thanks!

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