McCrory's appointments push politics

McCrory’s appointments of Art Pope and Tony Tata signal that politics will rule.

January 5, 2013 

Pat McCrory is so excited about becoming governor he’s having two inauguration ceremonies. The first was his official swearing-in at a low-key event at the State Capitol on Saturday. The next will be festivities surrounding his inaugural address on the Capitol grounds Jan. 12.

But once the hoopla fades, McCrory will have to move from the glories of becoming governor to the hard work of governing. In that, he will rely on his eight-member Cabinet, the appointed agency leaders who will run state operations from the massive to the mundane.

Those appointments gave us the first sense of McCrory’s judgment as a chief executive. In some instances, the appointments appeared solid, such as naming former Republican state legislators Bill Daughtridge and Lyons Gray as, respectively, secretary of administration and secretary of revenue.

Putting the combative Kieran Shanahan in charge of public safety appears justified by his background as a former assistant U.S. attorney, but a stormy tenure seems inevitable.

Tata appointment

Some Cabinet appointments involve people too new to state government for us to get a sense of how they’ll do. But one of those appointments, Tony Tata to head the Department of Transportation, involves a figure well-known in Raleigh as the former Wake County schools superintendent. We did get a clear sense from Tata’s ascension. We sensed nonsense.

McCrory sent notice early that his administration would have a sharp, partisan edge. He named Art Pope as the one who would direct the drafting of the state budget. Naming Pope, a wealthy figure who virtually bankrolled the Republican takeover of the General Assembly, was a stick in the eye of liberal Democrats who regard him as hostile to many government functions and responsibilities.

However baldly political the Pope appointment was, at least McCrory scored points for moxie. He promised changes, and he was making a big one.

But even that faint virtue of the Pope appointment faded Thursday when McCrory announced the last of his Cabinet appointments and revealed Tata’s startling new role. The appointment seemed ordered up by Pope and dutifully carried out by the one who is supposed to be making the state’s decisions.

Wake fiasco

Tata, a former U.S. Army general, was hired to lead Wake County schools by a Republican school board majority created in part by Pope’s local political muscle. That group turned the school board into a reality show, and voters put Democrats in charge at the first opportunity. The Democrats tried working with Tata as school superintendent, but he was an inexperienced education executive with a reportedly bullying management style that ultimately produced a fiasco of school bus chaos at the start of school last year. He was fired, albeit with a $253,625 severance package, after less than two years in office.

Out of work, Tata, a former Fox News guest commentator, was very much in politics. Now McCrory/Pope have given him one of the highest-profile positions in state government, running an agency with a $4.5 billion budget and responsibility for the nation’s second-largest state highway system.

“If he can do it in Afghanistan, then he can do it here,” McCrory said, striking a jocular note as he introduced the former general who couldn’t make the buses run on time. The quip suggested the governor was oblivious to the converse: If he couldn’t do it in Wake County, then he can’t do it for 100 counties.

Tata, strangely, was shuffled away from the event by McCrory aides and made no comment. Perhaps his appointment, like that of Pope, said enough.

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