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Chris Fitzsimon: Transition offers the good, bad and the absurd

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Last week was a big one for the McCrory transition team, complete with a press conference Thursday announcing the first three appointments of the new administration, more details about the new conservative group selling access to the new governor, and a welcome rebuke to the bitter partisan rants by Republican legislative leaders about current Governor Beverly Perdue.

Let’s start with the good news. McCrory was asked at his press conference about Perdue’s recent flurry of activity including pushing the deal to turn the Dorothea Dix land into a park and the appointment of Court of Appeals Judge Cheri Beasley to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has slammed Perdue personally for everything she has done in the last few weeks, calling the Dix deal an example of Perdue “desperately trying to craft a last-minute legacy at NC taxpayers’ expense.”

Tea party groups like Americans for the Prosperous called it a billion dollar giveaway and a “betrayal of taxpayers.” Berger this week repeatedly slammed Perdue’s decision to appoint Beasley without using a commission she set up to help with judicial appointments.

McCrory’s response to the question about how he feels about all of Perdue’s moves was simple and direct. “She’s the governor. That’s how I feel about it. She has the authority to make those moves.”

That must have gone over like a lead balloon in Berger’s office, robbing them of any credibility for the next few weeks for more inappropriate partisan blather that they surely had planned.

McCrory also said he wished that Perdue had waited on the Dix decision but that he “was all for the park.”

Whoops. There’s another blow for Americans for the Prosperous and the rest of the Tea Party world. McCrory believes in protecting valuable public resources, not always selling them off to the highest private bidder.That might be a sign that McCrory will indeed govern more like the traditional moderate corporate conservative he was as mayor of Charlotte than the far-right candidate that made robocalls for Americans for the Prosperous in the last legislative session.

But don’t count on it. McCrory also announced Thursday that former Durham City Council member Thomas Stith would be his chief of staff.

Stith is a former vice-president of the Pope Civitas Institute, one of the key propaganda outfits of the Art Pope right-wing empire. Pope himself is co-chair of the transition team and was at the press conference.

Stith may be a capable guy, but having someone closely aligned with the Pope wing of the party in that powerful of a post does not seem to bode well for folks hoping for a moderate, reasonable administration.

The impact of McCrory’s other appointments announced Thursday, Aldona Wos as Secretary of Health and Human Services and John Skvarla as Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, is less clear.

Wos, a retired physician with a compelling life story, is best known for being a prolific Republican fundraiser and the U.S. Ambassador to Estonia under President George W. Bush.

She parroted a few Republican talking points about the Affordable Care Act during the recent presidential campaign in support of Mitt Romney, but most of her views on key health and human services issues are unknown, as is her ability to manage a huge organization like HHS that affects the daily lives of millions of people in North Carolina.

Skvarla is the CEO of an environmental restoration company that has been pushing the privatization of wetlands mitigation work. His business partner was recently appointed to the commission that will oversee fracking in North Carolina.

Skvarla has some roots in the Tea Partyish world, founding a group that pushed bonded term limits for congressional candidates. The group worked to get candidates to pledge $250,000 to a charity if they failed to live up to their pledge to limit their terms. It’s a nutty idea for a lot of reasons including the fact that it presumes that people running for office should have $250,000 they can give away.

The most troubling part of McCrory’s week came after his press conference when he was asked about the Foundation for North Carolina, a new conservative advocacy group that is holding an inaugural party to raise money and promising access to McCrory next year at weekend retreats for a $50,000 contribution.

McCrory told reporters that he’s not engaged with the group. That’s an odd answer. He has agreed to appear at an inaugural celebration to raise money for them and spend at least two weekends at resorts with people who give money to the organization. That seems pretty engaged.

One of the leaders of his campaign and now his transition team, Jack Hawke, is also working with the group, raising all sorts of ethical problems. Hawke is in effect raising money from big donors at the same time he has a role in deciding who is hired and appointed to key jobs in the new governor’s administration.

That ought to trouble a governor-elect who promised transparency and the highest ethical standards for his administration. Instead, McCrory says he is not engaged.

He needs to get engaged and put a stop to this blatant access-selling by a member of own transition team.