RALEIGH — A who’s who of conservatives, business interests, Charlotte associates and at least one big-name Republican donor are among the team that will help Governor-elect Pat McCrory build his cabinet.
McCrory introduced his transition team at his first state capital news conference on Thursday.
“The campaign is over and now it’s time to lead and govern,” McCrory said.
Most of the 23 members of the transition team, who come from across the state, attended the half-hour news conference at the Albemarle Building near the government complex in downtown Raleigh. The team members, some paid and some volunteers, have already begun building the next executive branch in advance of taking control in January.
One of the most prominent members of the team is Raleigh businessman Art Pope, a former legislator and major donor to Republican and conservative causes. Several people also connected to Pope are on the team.
The director of the transition effort will be Thomas Stith, a former Durham city councilman who served in Gov. Jim Martin’s administration. Stith is a former vice president of the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a think tank funded by Pope’s family foundation.
Former state Republican Party chairman Jack Hawke, one-time president of the Civitas Institute and campaign strategist for McCrory, is also on the team. Lindsey Wakely, who will be legal counsel, worked at the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law and is former legal counsel for Pope’s company, Variety Wholesalers.
When asked about the selection of Pope, who is a polarizing figure in the view of many Democrats and liberals, McCrory explained the choice by saying he is “extremely knowledgeable about the operation of state government. And by the way, he has a great relationship with Gov. Perdue also.”
A corporate theme
McCrory said he refers to Stith as “my CEO,” and continued the corporate theme by introducing deputy director John Baldwin, who was chief of staff at the state Department of Labor, as his chief operating officer.
Other members of the transition team McCrory singled out were longtime associate John Lassiter, president of Carolina Legal Staffing, who served on the Charlotte City Council with him; Tony Almeida, who was McCrory’s boss at Duke Energy and is now retired; Kelly Nicholson, a former adviser to Senate leader Phil Berger and a vice president at UNC Health Care; and former state Rep. Johnathan Rhyne Jr., who will serve as general counsel.
Former Republican governors Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin, along with former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner, are also on the leadership team. Gardner attended the news conference.
McCrory said he plans to reach out to Democrats, although he only has one Democratic ex-politician on the team: former House Speaker Joe Mavretic, who is estranged from the party for leading a bipartisan revolt against a longtime Democratic House speaker two decades ago. McCrory said he has emphasized to the GOP leaders in the legislature that he expects a team approach.
‘Culture of customer service’
McCrory said he wanted to instill in state government “a culture of customer service,” and added that North Carolina is the customer. He also promised open government.
“I plan to bring a mayor’s attitude to the executive branch,” he said. “An attitude in which there’s no place to hide. You’re always in front of the people. … Our administration will be very accessible, extremely transparent and most of all extremely ethical and committed to the job.”
He said all members of the transition team had signed ethics pledges.
McCrory said the team was already lining up people to hire, and invited prospective employees to apply online at www.workforpat.com.
He said the transition group will be reviewing pressing policies such as the Affordable Care Act, transportation, economic development and taxes. Additionally, the group will begin taking a close look at state government operations, particularly the executive branch and cabinet agencies to see if there is a need to reorganize.
“They’re going to be looking at everything in a short period of time,” he said.
McCrory said he and his wife, Ann, visited with Perdue earlier in the day. He said the governor and his wife had begun talking details about moving into the Executive Mansion.