RALEIGH – Gov. Pat McCrory said Saturday at North Carolina’s inauguration ceremony that his administration will help revitalize the state’s economy and education system but that state government won’t be an obstacle to unleashing the state’s new South dynamism.
McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor and state’s first Republican governor in 20 years, told thousands in downtown Raleigh for the public swearings-in of 10 Council of State members that “working together, we can make North Carolina the place of unlimited potential.”
“We will put North Carolina on a better road to recovery. We will grasp our potential from every Main Street throughout North Carolina,” McCrory said during his 22-minute speech overlooking Raleigh’s primary downtown thoroughfare of Fayetteville Street.
McCrory and GOP N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest already took the oaths of office several days ago in toned-down events, but both got sworn in a second time on the south side of Capitol Square with all the pageantry the state of North Carolina musters every four years.
Soldiers fired a 19-gun salute from the roof of the old 1840 Capitol building draped with patriotic colors after Chief Justice Sarah Parker completed the oath for McCrory on a dais with dozens of elected officials.
The foggy morning gave way to blue skies for the inaugural parade and traditional open house at the Executive Mansion in the afternoon.
While six council members are Democrats, the event brought out Republicans who are still celebrating.
The legislature and the governorship are held in Republican hands together for the first time since 1870.
Gov. Jim Martin, the last Republican governor inaugurated in 1989, attended the ceremony.
“This is the culmination of 20 years of work. It’s a proud day. I feel a lot of good feelings for my state,” longtime Guilford County GOP activist Marcus Kindley said.
McCrory, 56, told the crowd his parents moved to North Carolina in the mid-1960s – his voice cracked with emotion when he spoke his late father’s name – because of its education and employment opportunities.
The state became a transportation and financial hub and built a leading university system, McCrory said.
But keeping to campaign themes suggesting the state has recently rested on its laurels, McCrory said he knows people are still hurting economically as the state’s unemployment rate – at 9.1 percent – remains among the nation’s highest.
“We’ve had great successes, but frankly some of the wounds had been camouflaged were uncovered and exposed, especially during the recession,” he said. “We face challenges as a state and today we are setting a new strategy and vision ... to unleash the strength of our industries and the entrepreneurial talent and energy of our citizens.”
McCrory received the loudest applause from the crowd – almost all the more than 2,200 folding chairs were filled, with hundreds more people standing – as he shied away from raising taxes.
“We should not ask for more money from you because the result will be more pain to families and small businesses on Main Street,” he said. “Instead, government is going to pay its bills, moving away from borrowed time and borrowed money.”
McCrory urged the expanded use of education technology to students and better matching curricula to the needs of companies.
The ceremony had the feeling of both a political homecoming and McCrory family reunion. McCrory’s predecessor, Democrat Beverly Perdue, as well as former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley attended, while Republican former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner served as emcee.
McCrory’s nephew recited the North Carolina state toast, while Charlotte residents and old friends filled the crowd. Democrat Rick Locklear, who attended Catawba College in Salisbury with McCrory, said he’s not surprised his classmate became governor.
“I didn’t always agree with him, (but) he was very passionate about all that he did,” Locklear said.
McCrory and his wife, Ann, planned to attend a celebration Saturday night assembled by a new conservative-leaning think tank. The traditional inaugural ball was Friday night.