RALEIGH — A governor’s first decisions always involve the naming of a cabinet, selecting the people who will help run state government and the executive branch agencies that interact with the governed.
Those first decisions are inevitably given heavy weight by pundits and insiders as they try to decipher how a new governor will govern.
So it was with North Carolina’s new governor, Pat McCrory.
Before he was sworn into office, McCrory had already assembled the key components of his team — his cabinet, his chief of staff, his budget director, his chief legal counsel and his communications director.
It didn’t take long for the inside-the-Beltline crowd to begin interpreting and ruminating on McCrory’s moves.
The most interesting choice to chew over was that of Art Pope as budget director.
Pope was introduced as “deputy budget director,” a nod to the fact that the state constitution designates the governor as the actual budget director. The title didn’t really matter.
The selection caused Chris Fitzsimon of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch to sarcastically call McCrory the top official in the new Pope administration.
What did McCrory expect?
Pope, a retail magnate and former state House member, has helped bankroll conservative candidates and causes for years, to the point that New Yorker magazine ran a profile of him entitled, “State for Sale.” But he also is well-qualified, being familiar with the legislature, tax policy and state budgeting.
The selection, though, will cause plenty of Democrats to view McCrory administration decision-making through a prism of Pope and his political influence.
Still, McCrory’s choices overall are pretty politically diverse.
Secretary of Culture Resources Susan Kluttz is the longtime Democratic mayor of Salisbury; Secretary of Revenue Lyons Gray is a moderate Republican who headed the powerful House Finance Committee in the mid and late 1990s; Secretary of Public Safety Kieran Shanahan is a fiery conservative, former federal prosecutor and African big game hunter.
McCrory clearly sought familiarity in some of his appointments.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos was a campaign co-chair and longtime political supporter; Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker is a former McCrory co-worker at Duke Energy; chief of staff Thomas Stith was an associate of McCrory campaign manager Jack Hawke.
While a lot of attention may focus on the group’s political leanings and history, the bigger issue for the new governor will be their readiness for and fluency with the workings of state government.
For some, the learning curve is going to be steep and mistakes inevitable.
What kind of advice, for example, will a legal counsel steeped in business and construction law give a governor about public meetings or government contracting? Will a former schools superintendent and Army general know how to swerve around the cronyism potholes so prevalent in road building?
Any transition in executive branch power is difficult. It becomes more difficult when the change involves a move from one political party to another. McCrory has caught his bus. Now it is time to drive it.
Capitol Press Association