Opinion: Daily Journal

McCrory deserves credit for disaster-relief bill

Hyperbole is alive and well in Raleigh.

The superlatives, at one point this week, were flying.

Tuesday, lawmakers unanimously approved a $200.9 million disaster relief package for North Carolinians whose lives were uprooted this fall by Hurricane Matthew and western wildfires.

The package, as we reported, includes $20 million to the Housing Trust Fund for people or families affected by the hurricane or wildfires and $9 million to the Division of Emergency Management for short-term housing needs.

A $1.6 billion state reserve, part of a “rainy day” fund, helped pay for the disaster relief, thus easing the burden on taxpayers.

Gov. Pat McCrory, who address the General Assembly, praised the state’s residents for their collective will and determination.

“They can withstand anything,” McCrory told lawmakers, “and they’re also going to rebuild and make sure our lives and our state are even stronger after this tremendous, tremendous natural disaster.”

As he finished addressing lawmakers Tuesday, Democrats rose to their feet and applauded the outgoing governor.

God bless every one of you, said McCrory, who also lauded state workers and emergency responders, whom he credited with saving cities and villages throughout the state.

Life was good.

Lawmakers recessed but later returned to dump a Santa-sized sack of legislation on the floors of the House and Senate. Democrats again rose, but they weren’t clapping. Ban the Republican Grinch, they cried.

So much for goodwill.

What’s lost in the flurry of activity Wednesday and Thursday is McCrory’s incessant efforts to lead North Carolinians through a time of historic disaster and a statewide angst. Forests burned and towns flooded, yet McCrory, waist deep in an election campaign, didn’t waver in his commitment to residents.

“This was the worst natural disaster in our state history,” he told lawmakers in referring to Matthew. The hurricane struck coastal North Carolina in October and caused, according to some estimates, $2 billion in damage and 28 deaths. This placed Matthew among the worst natural disasters in state history.

It was bad, for sure, although those who remember Hazel, Fran, and Floyd have grounds to debate McCrory’s worst-ever proclamation.

Doesn’t matter, really. The fact that McCrory took charges does. The governor and his disaster team visited several communities, including places in Edgecombe County, Fayetteville, Kinston, and Lumberton, which was hit especially hard.

Some 88,000 homes were damaged with a total loss of more than $967 million, according to the disaster bill. Of these, 4,424 homes were destroyed. More than 62,000 total acres burned in the western part of the state, including more than 25,000 acres protected by the state. More than 2,400 emergency responders responded to the wildfires and related 31 events, and firefighters from 40 states joined North Carolina firefighters.

McCrory talked about a sense of urgency in government addressing the disaster and about developing long-term plans to help local entity deal with the next one.

“The next hundred-year flood will come,” he said.

“We’re talking about human lives, and it could happen to any of us.”

McCrory’s words should resonate among North Carolinians, regardless of what happened in the General Assembly after his address.

The hurricane bill represented government at its most efficient. At its bipartisan best.

But that was a few days ago.