North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory arrives for a memorial service for former North Carolina Gov. James Holshouser at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory arrives for a memorial service for former North Carolina Gov. James Holshouser at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines, N.C., Friday, June 21, 2013. Holshouser, North Carolina's first Republican governor elected in the 20th century, died Monday at age 78. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, Pool) (Gerry Broome/)

Republican governors are wielding a nearly unprecedented level of power across the country, with 24 of them working with a GOP-controlled state legislature.

But partisan control doesn't always mean the governor is in charge. Indeed, the setup has led to intra-party showdowns reminiscent of the larger divides in the national party.

As the GOP seeks a new path forward ahead of the 2016 presidential race, Republicans control the legislature and governor's seats in nearly half of the 50 states — compared with 13 for Democrats.

Although some of these governors have expressed a desire for a more moderate path, Republican state legislatures have been understandably eager to put their newfound control to use — and often on some divisive issues.

Republican legislators in several of these states have spurned their governor's priorities — balking at proposed tax cuts, for example — and instead have passed new abortion regulations, voter ID laws and legislation reducing the power of unions, often without the initial support of the governor.

As with many issues on the national stage right now, these bills have forced governors to choose between pleasing the conservative base and appealing to a broad electorate that may not support the legislation. In almost all of these cases, the governor wound up signing the measures.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is the most recent example. On Monday, he signed into law an extensive and divisive voter ID law that the Justice Department is looking to challenge, and two weeks ago, he signed an abortion law that has drawn the scorn of the left.


Neither piece of legislation was on his list of priorities, allies say. McCrory supported the voter ID effort during his 2012 campaign and the idea is broadly popular, but the state Senate attached many other measures to the bill that Democrats contend are aimed at suppressing minority and young voters and could prove more problematic for McCrory.

In the case of the abortion law, McCrory had threatened to veto the bill, having pledged during the 2012 race not to sign into law any further abortion restrictions. The legislature eventually changed the measure to allow the state health secretary to write the new rules - with specific guidance.

In the end, McCrory embraced both bills wholeheartedly and said they were the right thing to do. But his allies say the governor would rather not handle them.

"There have certainly been issues sent Governor McCrory's way that are not part of his agenda, and in some cases he has outright disagreed with policies that he worked to reshape and in some cases will veto," said one ally, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment.

North Carolina political analyst John Davis said McCrory is simply dealing with the fact that North Carolina is under Republican control for the first time since the 19th century.

"Issues like voter ID and abortion have been on the Republican slate forever; they just never had an opportunity for 114 years to get them out of the committee," Davis said. "So it's no surprise that a lot of issues like that are not priorities for McCrory . . . will come to his desk."

McCrory's situation is familiar to other GOP governors in blue and swing-states.

After Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan Republicans rode to victory in the 2010 election, the state legislature moved on a "right to work" bill, under which workers could no longer be compelled to donate to labor unions as a condition of employment. Union supporters contend that bills are aimed are reducing their influence.

Snyder made clear early on that he didn't want any right-to-work legislation — once deemed unthinkable in a state with such a heavy union presence - but the state legislature pressed forward with it, and Snyder eventually signed the bill.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has clashed with the GOP-controlled state legislature over several issues, including the federal Medicaid expansion, campaign finance and Scott's proposed pay raises for teachers.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has fought with a state legislature opposed to the Medicaid expansion. And he left open the possibility of vetoing abortion restrictions included in a recently passed budget, although he ultimately declined to veto them.

The situation is even more pitched in another nominally blue state under GOP control, Pennsylvania. There, Gov. Tom Corbett has run into a GOP-controlled state legislature that has flouted priorities that include liquor privatization, transportation funding and the state pension debt.

As in North Carolina, though, Pennsylvania Republicans have made a point to pass new abortion and voter ID legislation.

"Clearly, Corbett's priorities failed not in spite of Republicans controlling the legislature, but rather because Republicans control the legislature," Pennsylvania political analysts G. Terry Madonna and Michael Young wrote last month.

Democrats say these Republican governors ran as moderates but have shown their true stripes when tough issues have arrived on their desks.

"They're in line with their Republican legislatures who are 'forcing' them to do these things; they just lie about it during their campaigns because their positions are deeply unpopular," said Danny Kanner, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association.