RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory began his first week as governor making clear a new chief executive is at the helm at the state capital.
In his first executive order, the Republican repealed a nonpartisan judicial nominating commission put in place by his Democratic predecessor.
“We are going back to the original constitutional authority granted to the governor,” he said. “With the signing of this order, I intend to appoint individuals with the highest quality of temperament, education, experience, ability and integrity who will impartially interpret the laws and administer justice.”
The Republican said the commission didn’t work, noting that even former Gov. Bev Perdue temporarily suspended the order in the final weeks of her term to fill a vacancy on the N.C. Supreme Court. Perdue selected N.C. Appeals Court Judge Cheri Beasley for the seat and then put her legal counsel Mark Davis on the appellate court – the kind of patronage appointment her original order was intended to prevent.
The suspension ended when Perdue left office, leaving McCrory to take action. Perdue urged future governors to keep it in place.
McCrory said he is still developing his process for selecting judges, and political influence is still a concern. But, he said, “My bigger concern is having an executive order that doesn’t work, and we saw that it doesn’t work.”
The newly minted governor announced his order at his first official press conference. He continues to name top staffers after completing his Cabinet last week.
Former Republican state Rep. Fred Steen of Rowan County will serve as his chief lobbyist, charged with getting McCrory’s agenda through the legislature. Steen lost a GOP primary bid for Congress in May, coming in fourth behind Richard Hudson, who later beat Democrat Larry Kissell to win the Charlotte-area seat.
Steen served four terms in the state House, ending as chairman of the public utilities committee. State Rep. Mike Hager, a Republican leader from Rutherfordton who served with Steen, said he is “an excellent pick.”
McCrory, unlike Republican governors in decades past, will work with a GOP-dominated legislature, but Hager said differences between the executive branch and lawmakers will surely emerge. “We will find the areas of compromise and work through those,” he said. “Fred will be good at that.”
McCrory also tapped his former Duke Energy colleague Tony Almeida to act as senior policy adviser on the economy and jobs in the governor’s office.
Almeida is a former vice president of economic development at Duke, and will play a key role in coordinating with Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker, another Duke alumna, to lure companies to the state. “He’s going to be my right-hand person in making contact with clients who are interested in North Carolina,” McCrory said.
For much of his public remarks, McCrory expressed concern about the state’s information technology system and dilapidated state buildings, saying both areas need immediate attention. “Our IS (information services) system is broken,” he said. “This is probably our No. 1 operational issue.”
He named Chris Estes, a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, an information technology firm, as the state’s chief information officer. McCrory called his position “the most important job right now” given the computer problems in state government.
“It’s clear we have to modernize and digitize state governor,” McCrory said.