Columns » Boomer with Attitude

Pat McCrory, cronyism and corporations: par for the course

Governor issues unjustifiable pay raises.

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"Hey, you've covered McCrory for years. What the hell is up with that guy?" I hear some variation on that question these days whenever I talk with out-of-town friends, including a couple of journalistic cohorts. And for some reason, every time I hear it, the question reminds me that not everyone had the great fortune of living here during McCrory's interminable run as mayor.

I heard "the question" after McCrory's ludicrous radio interview where he slammed liberal-arts education. The next time, the question came in seriously puzzled tones, referring to the governor's cookie delivery to women who protested new restrictions on abortion. Now, the out-of-towners, as well as a number of political observers unfamiliar with McCrory's mayoral M.O., are taken aback by his transparent cronyism. Pat the Governor, you see, hired young, minimally-qualified-at-best former campaign workers for important jobs, and gave them lavish raises to boot — not long after telling state workers that they needed to trim back and cut expenses.

Two of McCrory's hires, first reported by the N.C. Justice Center, were met with the journalistic equivalent of spewing coffee after a nasty surprise. One hire, 24-year-old Ricky Diaz, worked awhile for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before becoming candidate McCrory's campaign press secretary. And, er, that's about it for Diaz's previous work experience. Still, McCrory handed Diaz the job of spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services at a salary of $85,000 per year — a $23,000 raise. Matt McKillip, also 24, spent 11 months as a research assistant at a conservative think tank and worked as McCrory's policy and research coordinator for seven months last year. Suddenly, ta-da, he's the chief policy officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, drawing $87,500 per year — a $22,500 raise — although he has no experience whatsoever in health care. Needless to say, the pair's fat raises fly in the face of McCrory's repeated calls for freezing state employees' salaries, reducing travel expenses and limiting purchases.

Maybe McCrory thought no one would notice McKillip and Diaz's bountiful salaries since they're merely a slice of a huge spending spree at the Department of Health and Human Services (which, according to McCrory, couldn't possibly afford to take free money from the feds to expand Medicaid). As the News & Observer of Raleigh reported, the agency created several new high-dollar positions after McCrory's inauguration, including a new IT chief for the Department of Health and Human Services, who'll make $175,000, around $20K more than the IT honcho for the entire state government; a Medicaid director making $210,000 per year ($48K more than her predecessor); the department's first chief financial officer, receiving about $169,000 per year; and the department's budget director got a $30K raise, to about $144,000.

Keep in mind that this new spurt of big spending is taking place in a department where payroll and average salaries have declined during the past year. But that's OK, because the new hires and the lavish salaries are for the purpose of "reorganizing" the Department of Health and Human Services to resemble a corporation's organizational structure. There are no right-wing myths more worn out than Ye Olde "Gummint should be run lak a bizniss" nonsense, which is a good indication of the circles in which McCrory's mind runs, in more ways than one.

Which brings us to my answer to the "What the hell is up with McCrory?" query. It's become a standard progressive meme to say that McCrory is "dumb," but I don't think that's true, at least not in the sense of lacking intelligence. What you have to understand about the governor is that his frames of reference are really limited. McCrory is a fratboy at heart, and so he gladly hands out favors to those who fit that mold, thus the two young bucks' cushy new jobs. Never mind that others are eminently more qualified, McKillip and Diaz are the kind of true believers in a "business-first" view of government that the governor is most comfortable around.

As for the effort to make the Department of Health and Human Services more "businesslike," the answer is similar. McCrory is fully invested in the conservative idea that the primary purpose of government is to promote commerce and increase business profits, since as we all know through experience that corporate profits trickle down to everyone else. Right? Commerce, in fact, is the be-all and end-all of life for the likes of McCrory, Tillis, Rucho, etc. — the lens through which they filter their politics. Anything besides helping corporations turn a profit is simply unimportant. All other interests and worldviews — social justice, education, environmental protections, etc. — are lumped together as insubstantial goals that are better left to the apparently magical free market's "invisible hand."

It's the same short-sighted, not to say blind, assumptions that have made Mississippi and Louisiana such delightful places for ordinary folks to live.

And to think that McCrory and his wrecking crew are just getting started.

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