UPDATED: Gov. Pat McCrory softened his language Monday about the thousands of demonstrators flooding the statehouse each week to protest the Republican agenda. Speaking to reporters, McCrory seemed to retreat from his language that they were "outsiders" trying to stir up trouble.
He asked them to remain respectful -- citing himself as an example. To the point, McCrory said the term "Moral Monday" is a misnomer. "Listen, we should have respectful differences, but to say one is moral, which gives the reference that one is immoral, on a political dispute ... I think is quite misleading," he said. "I respectfully disagree with some of those who are protesting against me, but from that disagreement I'm not judging them on their personal character."
At the same time, McCrory said he welcomed lawful protesters and applauded the nonviolent tone. "We ought to be very proud of ourselves here in North Carolina that we have not had violence," he said.
Still, he pivoted to say he agreed with law enforcement's decision to arrest protesters, even though the Wake County district attorney has suggested citations are more appropriate. "I believe if people break the law, they should be arrested," he said.
McCrory used the term "respect" often -- ignoring his earlier comments about "outsiders" that the demonstrators took as an insult and a survey of those in attendance that proved such a label untrue.
"There is respectful debate and respectful differences of how we achieve our goals in this state and this nation," he said. "One thing I've always done in public service is show respect to those who disagree with me."
McCrory also said he "met with many protesters on many different issues." But the leading opposition groups organizing the rallies, such as the N.C. NAACP, said McCrory has not met with them since the legislative session started.
The governor's office said McCrory has repeatedly met with protesters, including as recently as Saturday night in Charlotte at the Jazz Club, where he talked to three women who were attending the protests. He also spoke with a Charlotte pastor about them in June, a spokeswoman said.