The state GOP is calling on state Sen. Martin Nesbitt to apologize to Dr. Aldona Wos, head of the state Department of Health and Human Services, for his remark about witches this week.
Near the end of a nine-hour legislative committee meeting Tuesday, the Democratic Senate leader from Asheville responded to a Republican senator’s complaint that N.C. Health News was on a witch hunt in its efforts to obtain public records from DHHS. The news organization reported the agency slanted its response to a state audit, based on those records.
To which Nesbitt replied:
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(Here’s the updated part: Several news media outlets reported at the time that Nesbitt said, “It’s not a witch hunt to try to find out what went on. ... Maybe the lady who wrote the article was on a witch hunt. I think she found one.” But a check of WRAL’s videotape shows Nesbitt appears to have said: “Maybe the lady who wrote the article was on a witch hunt. I think she found it – a little." So, ungrammatical and vague, but not exactly calling Secretary Wos a witch.)
Reacting to the initial report, GOP Party vice chairwoman Joyce Krawiec, in a news release issued Friday, said it was “a highly offensive and misogynistic term.”
“For the Democratic Senate minority leader to so shamelessly disrespect a prominent female leader with that kind of rhetoric completely crosses the line and sends a terrible message to young women and girls across our great state,” Krawiec added.
Ford Porter, Nesbitt’s spokesman, issued this response on Friday:
“During Tuesday's hearing, Sen. Hise and Dr. Wos had an exchange in which they bemoaned the inconvenience of government transparency. The topic at hand was an article published Tuesdaymorning indicating that the McCrory Administration had altered a state response to a Medicaid audit in order to portray North Carolina's Medicaid system in a more negative light.
“During their exchange, Sen. Hise speculated that the problem wasn't the altering of the audit response, but rather, the media's ability to gain access to and publish public records. Sen. Hise then referred to public records requests by the media as a "witch hunt." Dr. Wos appeared to agree with the sentiment and indicated that she would prefer her department not be subject to requests.
“Sen. Nesbitt' s position was that state government, and DHHS specifically, should act in good faith and "not fiddle with facts." Moreover, Sen. Nesbitt took issue with Sen. Hise's accusations about the motive of the reporter in question. By calling her story a 'witch hunt' Sen. Hise indicated that the reporter had intentionally sought to defame the McCrory administration, regardless of fact.
“Sen. Nesbitt merely noted that he had no knowledge of any such intent, but even if so, the reporter seemed to have unearthed some troubling behavior on the part of the McCrory Administration.
“While Sen. Nesbitt remains troubled by Dr. Wos' leadership and the allegations of 'systemic mismanagement' at DHHS, it should be made clear that he was not talking to or about Dr. Wos personally when entertaining Sen. Hise's notion of a witch hunt.
“There are real challenges facing this state and the Department of Health and Human Services and rather than provide solutions, Dr. Wos and her staff offered vague platitudes and attacked the ideas of transparency and accountability for taxpayer dollars. Clearly that's not a good look, so some in the GOP are hoping to distract from the issue by once again ‘fiddling with facts.’"