McCrory's first task: Building a new team

Former mayor’s selections hint at a different approach to running N.C.

jmorrill@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 5, 2013 

  • Meet McCrory’s team Gov. Pat McCrory’s new team includes people both familiar with and new to state government. Neal Alexander, Director of the State Office of Personnel Home: Lincoln County Background: Spent 40 years with Duke Energy, most recently as vice president for human resources in one division. Currently chairs the Gardner-Webb University Board of Trustees and The Employers Association, an organization that provides human resources help to businesses. Bill Daughtridge, Secretary of Administration Age: 60 Home: Rocky Mount Background: Former legislator most recently served as a senior policy adviser to GOP House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius. Sharon Decker, Secretary of Commerce Age: 55 Home: Rutherfordton Background: Like McCrory, a former Duke Energy executive. She chaired the Charlotte Chamber in 1998 and was named Charlotte’s Woman of the Year. Since moving to Rutherford County a decade ago, has pursued an interest in the ministry and has been working on a masters in divinity from Gardner-Webb University. Lyons Gray, Secretary of Revenue Age: 70 Home: Winston-Salem Background: Businessman and former 14-year legislator who chaired the Finance Committee. From 2005 to 2009 served as chief financial officer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush, managing a budget of more than $7 billion. Recently served as senior adviser to the president of the University of North Carolina system. Susan Kluttz, Secretary of Cultural Resources Home: Salisbury Background: Former mayor for 14 years, helped found the North Carolina Metropolitan Mayors Coalition. Helped develop Salisbury’s Cultural Arts Plan and created a tourism master plan for the city. Art Pope, Deputy budget director Age: 56 Home: Raleigh Background: Former legislator is a major contributor to Republican candidates and conservative organizations. Has given a reported $40 million over last decade to conservative politicians and causes. Founded and financed the John Locke Foundation and John W. Pope Civitas Institute. Kieran Shanahan, Secretary of Public Safety Home: Raleigh Background: Former federal prosecutor who practices law. A frequent contributor as a legal analyst, including during the 2012 trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards. Serves on the East Carolina University Board of Trustees. John Skvarla, Secretary of Environmental and Natural Resources Age: 64 Home: Pinehurst Background: A lawyer, he’s had a succession of careers including as an executive with he world’s largest all-cargo airline. More recently he’s been CEO of Restoration Systems, a company that helps businesses navigate environmental regulations. Bob Stephens: Chief Legal Counsel Home: Charlotte Background: Former president of the Mecklenburg Bar Foundation, served as attorney for Charlotte-Mecklenburg library system. Thomas Stith, Chief of Staff Age: 49 Home: Durham Background: Former Durham city council member who directed McCrory’s transition team. A protege of McCrory adviser Jacke Hawke who hired him to staff of the Pope-funded Civitas Institute. Served as director of minority affairs in GOP Gov. Jim Martin’s administration. Tony Tata, Secretary of Transportation Age: 53 Home: Raleigh Background: Former brigadier general served as schools superintendent of Wake County schools for almost two years until last September, when he was fired by a Democratic-controlled board. Aldona Wos, Secretary of Health and Human Services Age: 57 Home: Greensboro Background: A native of Warsaw, Poland, she’s a physician who has been active in Republican politics, raising money for George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole and McCrory. She served as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia under Bush.
  • More information Live coverage at noon You can watch Pat McCrory’s swearing-in ceremony Saturday at charlotteobserver.com beginning at noon. It will also be broadcast on UNC-TV.

They are mostly male, mostly white and mostly from the Piedmont. They boast some experience in state government, but little in the executive branch. They’re strong personalities, and two controversial ones. And when Republican Pat McCrory is sworn in Saturday as governor, they’ll be the team that will help him lead North Carolina for the next four years.

The selections mark the first big decisions by the incoming governor, North Carolina’s first GOP executive in 20 years. They offer a clue to the new administration and the man at the top.

“It may not be the perfect picture of diversity that a lot of people want to see,” says Tom Campbell, moderator of NC SPIN, a statewide public affairs show. “But if you … look at it from the point of view of how you’re gonna work on and fix state government, this is a pretty good team.”

McCrory, mayor of Charlotte for 14 years, calls the eight cabinet secretaries and four other top officials “pragmatic problem solvers and leaders.” Among them: two of his former colleagues from Charlotte-based Duke Energy, four current or former business executives, a former prosecutor, another ex-mayor and a former ambassador.

They also include three former Republican lawmakers with ties to the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

A McCrory spokesman says half are Democrats or independents. But it’s one Republican who already has been a lightning rod for Democrats. That’s the state’s new deputy budget director, Art Pope.

The Pope administration?

Chris Fitzsimon, director of N.C. Policy Watch, a liberal advocacy group in Raleigh, even derisively calls McCrory the top official in the new Pope Administration. A wealthy businessman whose family made its money in a chain of retail stores, Pope has bankrolled conservative candidates and causes, including three Raleigh think tanks. He drew national attention in 2011 as the subject of a New Yorker profile headlined “State for Sale.”

Pope’s money helped Republicans win control of the legislature in 2010. ProPublica, an investigative reporting site, recently reported that he was involved in the subsequent redistricting that helped North Carolina Republicans expand their majorities in 2012.

“He’s in a position to influence the budget and the decision-making of every agency, so to some extent all the cabinet officers have to deal with Art Pope,” says Ferrel Guillory, a political analyst at UNC Chapel Hill.

“A lot of the story of the McCrory administration, at least the way it seems to be developing, is to what extent is (it) an expression of his agenda and to what extent is it an expression of Art Pope’s agenda?”

Pope’s response?

“It’s a 100 percent McCrory agenda. Period.”

He says he plans to take the same approach he did in 1985 as a young counsel to the last GOP governor, Jim Martin: offer advice.

“Nothing has changed in the last 28 years,” he says. “My job is to advise him … and when he makes a decision, my job is to implement that decision.”

As a House member, Pope was known as a numbers guy. He served on the finance and budget committees and helped create the state’s “Rainy Day” fund. He took a hard look at budgets, once brandishing receipts for $3,000 worth of gourmet pizza purchased by UNC.

“You can say what you want to about Art Pope, but, doggone it, the guy’s got a lot of experience in state government,” says Tom Campbell, once an aide to a Democratic state treasurer. “He’s been in the legislative inner sanctum building a state budget.”

At a news conference announcing the appointment last month, McCrory said he got “the best qualified person for the job.”

“I need someone who knows numbers, who understands the public sector, who understands the private sector, and can also work with the legislature in developing a budget,” he said.

‘Political tone deafness’

Pope isn’t the only cabinet official who has known controversy.

Transportation Secretary Tony Tata served as superintendent of Wake County schools until September when the Democratic controlled board fired him in part over a snafu involving bus schedules at the start of the school year.

But Tata also is a West Point graduate who was Deputy Commanding General of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007. Over the years, a McCrory spokesman says, the former brigadier general oversaw complex transportation and infrastructure projects.

Chris Kromm, executive director of the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies, describes the Pope and Tata appointments, along with that of McCrory chief of staff Thomas Stith, a former official of John W. Pope Civitas Institute, as “nods to sort of the right wing.”

“That sends a message,” Kromm says. “To draw on those people suggests a kind political tone deafness about how they will be perceived.”

But it’s hard to argue that McCrory’s team has the same ideological stripe.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker, a former Charlottean who lives in Rutherford County, is an unaffiliated voter who once supported Democrat Erskine Bowles in a U.S. Senate race against Republican Elizabeth Dole.

Susan Kluttz, the new Secretary of Cultural Resources, is a former Salisbury mayor who narrowly lost her bid for re-election in 2011 after issuing a controversial proclamation declaring a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender pride day.

“It’s difficult to make the argument that it’s one voice and one thought,” Stith says of McCrory’s team.

Says Guillory: “The test of an executive is how do you manage that political diversity?”

The only Charlottean among the appointees is Bob Stephens, a lawyer who will be the governor’s legal counsel. But the dozen appointees are only the vanguard of a new administration that will grow as staffs are filled out. The GOP-led General Assembly has expanded the number of jobs a governor can fill.Ed McMahan, a former lawmaker from Charlotte and a McCrory adviser, acknowledges that there are strong personalities. He says that won’t bother their boss.

“One of the strong points of the governor is the fact that he wants to surround himself with good, capable people and doesn’t feel like he has to do it all himself,” he says. “And I think that’s obvious with these appointments.”

Morrill: 704-358-5059

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