They are mostly male, mostly white and mostly from the Piedmont. They boast some experience in state government, but little in the executive branch. Theyre strong personalities, and two controversial ones. And when Republican Pat McCrory is sworn in Saturday as governor, theyll 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 Carolinas 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 youre 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 its one Republican who already has been a lightning rod for Democrats. Thats the states 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.
Popes 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.
Hes 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 Popes agenda?
Its 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 states 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 guys got a lot of experience in state government, says Tom Campbell, once an aide to a Democratic state treasurer. Hes 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 isnt 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 its hard to argue that McCrorys 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.
Its difficult to make the argument that its one voice and one thought, Stith says of McCrorys 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 governors 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 wont 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 doesnt feel like he has to do it all himself, he says. And I think thats obvious with these appointments.
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