Paying between $35 to $500 a plate, the brunch fundraiser was attended by about 200 supporters. McCrory and Bush shook hands and took photos with attendees for about 15 minutes before taking the podium to speak and answer friendly questions from them, addressing a variety of issues such as education funding and taxes.
McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, is running against Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton. McCrory lost his gubernatorial bid four years ago to Gov. Bev Perdue. She bowed out of the race this year before the primary.
Despite his extensive political experience, McCrory sought to portray himself as a Raleigh outsider to the group in Asheville. "We've lost a little bit of our luster in North Carolina the last few years," he maintained. "It's going to take the leadership from the outside to get things back on track."
As he has been doing at campaign stops across the state for several months, McCrory said tax and regulation cuts would help enable businesses to hire more workers.
Bush, the former governor of Florida, "set an example of how to do things," said McCrory. "I'm going to steal his ideas," he joked.
"I love this guy; he's going to be a great governor," Bush gushed.
However, that sentiment wasn't shared by about 20 protestors outside who felt McCrory hasn't been transparent enough about his work history at lobbying firm Moore & Van Allen and Duke Energy. Despite increasing demands from Democrats, liberal activists and reporters, McCrory has refused to release past tax returns they say would give the public a better idea of what he did at those companies. A plane circling above the DoubleTree flew a banner reading: "Who Pays McCrory" and urging folks to go to www.whopaysmccrory.com.
Noting that Bush released more than 20 years of tax returns as a gubernatorial candidate, protest organizer Gerrick Brenner asserted: "McCrory rubbing elbows with Bush is dripping with irony." Bush previously called on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. But no one asked about the issue at the brunch and it wasn't discussed by Bush or McCrory.
A 30 minute press conference was originally supposed to be part of the Asheville event, but the campaign canceled it the day before, citing scheduling conflicts. However, Brenner, who serves as the executive director of the ProgressNC group, speculated that the real reason was because the campaign wanted to avoid any questions about McCrory's taxes.
"I don't know how long he can keep this up: Running for governor by running from the media," he asserted. "These are legitimate questions the voters deserve answers too."
McCrory has been leading Dalton in the polls.
Throughout the day on Thursday, the McCrory and Dalton campaigns, as well as ProgressNC, sent out statements trying to spin the Asheville event.
Here's what they said:
Press release from the McCory campaign:
RALEIGH, N.C. – Today, Pat McCrory and Jeb Bush visited Asheville to attend a brunch hosted by the Women for McCrory Coalition and discuss solutions to fix North Carolina’s broken economy and reform education. The two leaders took part in a conversation with the audience of 200, moderated by Women for McCrory Chairwoman and Former Ambassador Dr. Aldona Wos.
“We have to modernize and reform our tax code, which was written back in the 1930s,” said McCrory. ”My opponent has a history of raising taxes on North Carolinians. He voted for $7.4 billion in new taxes as a state senator and he supports maintaining Governor Perdue’s $850 million ‘temporary’ tax. That’s the wrong approach for North Carolina when we face such high unemployment.”
“A competitive, stable tax environment is important for a state’s economy to grow,” said Jeb Bush. “In Florida we cut $20 billion in taxes to unleash the private sector, creating 1.4 million net new jobs for Floridians. If North Carolina wants to be competitive and create jobs, it will have to reform its tax code for the 21st century.”
North Carolina has the 4th highest unemployment rate and its corporate and personal income taxes are the highest in the region. In a Thumbtack study, North Carolina earned a C+ in overall business friendliness and the state’s tax code earned a D+, ranking it 34th in the nation.
Pat’s plan to fix the economy would make government more responsive to business, while modernizing the tax code to spur job creation, productivity and innovation.
McCrory and Bush also discussed common sense reforms for education to promote student achievement and hold schools accountable for results. Currently, North Carolina schools are failing to graduate 1 in 5 students.
“We cannot be satisfied with the status quo and low expectations because a strong education system is too important to the future of our state. We need to promote academic success and hold the schools accountable for producing prepared students to enter the workforce,” said Pat McCrory.
“The skills students are learning in the classroom must prepare them to be successful in college and their careers,” added Jeb Bush. “Tragically, many students are graduating high school without those skills and too many are not graduating at all. Schools must be held accountable for student learning and parents should be empowered to select the school that best fits their child.”
As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush led the charge for education reform and revolutionized the way Florida’s schools operate. Under Bush’s leadership, Florida ended social promotions and instituted merit pay for teachers, making schools accountable for student performance.
“I know that under Pat McCrory’s leadership, North Carolina can start its own comeback story by fixing its economy and implementing much-needed educational reforms,” said Jeb Bush.
Press release from the Dalton campaign:
Questions the Press Will Not Be Allowed to Ask Pat McCrory and Jeb Bush
(Raleigh, NC) July 19th— Today in Asheville, gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory will host former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for a fundraiser. One day before the event, the McCrory campaign cancelled their planned press conference, which raises many questions...none of which the press will be allowed to ask:
• Mayor McCrory, why won’t you release your tax returns?
• Governor Bush, you’ve publicly encouraged Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Do you include Pat McCrory in that call for transparency?
• Mayor McCrory, another issue of transparency is who is paying you and for what? On April 8th, you said that you “had no specific clients” at Moore Van Allen, but on May 18th, you said that you couldn’t release your tax records in order to “protect your clients." Which is it?
• Pat McCrory has said that he wants to model NC’s tax system after your state of Florida, Governor Bush, and eliminate the income tax. Do you think that can be done without raising other existing taxes or creating new taxes on services and goods? Or, would you would it call for massive cuts in services or debt to pay for the tax cuts as in Florida?
• Mayor McCrory, you've said Florida is a model for your tax reform. In Florida, middle-income families pay more than four times the tax rate of wealthiest citizens. Is that your model?
• Mayor McCrory, you're running on your record and attacking Walter Dalton on taxes. While you were Mayor of Charlotte, as consequence of the sales tax that you pushed, Charlotte had the highest tax burden in North Carolina for nine years. How do you reconcile this discrepancy?
Press release from ProgressNC:
Will Jeb Bush tell Pat McCrory to release his tax returns?
ASHEVILLE -- In recent days both Mitt Romney and Pat McCrory have been under fire for not releasing their tax returns to the public. Questions about what they may be hiding are mounting. Tomorrow, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in town, Pat McCrory has an opportunity to come clean, but he seems intent on doing the opposite.
The Asheville Citizen-Times has reported that McCrory cancelled a scheduled press conference with Bush, perhaps, fearing questions about his tax returns.
Bush made headlines earlier this year when he called on Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. As a candidate for Governor of Florida, Bush released over 20 years of tax returns as a candidate for Governor of Florida in 1994, 1998 and 2002 and even challenged his Democratic opponents to do the same. [Miami Herald, 1/11/94; 8/4/98; 7/31/02; The Hotline, 7/31/02]
"Clearly Jeb Bush thinks transparency is important for a candidate for governor. We hope that Bush will call on Pat McCrory to follow his example," said Gerrick Brenner, Executive Director of Progress North Carolina. "It's a matter of respect for the voters."
As Pat McCrory continues to refuse to release his tax returns and client list from the lobbying firm where he works, Progress North Carolina Action is ramping up its "Who Pays McCrory?" campaign.
An aerial banner asking "Who Pays McCrory?" will fly over Asheville during the McCrory/Bush luncheon and local residents will rally outside the event.
Also, see Xpress' Twitter coverage of the event here.