Last week the Governor invited select radio and television news directors to a closed door (no camera) session where he sought to enlist their support in “positive news” about state government. Two cabinet secretaries, whose departments have provided a non stop investigatory newsfeed for weeks now, appeared – Aldona Wos, DHHS (Dept. of Health and Human Services), and John Skvarla, DENR (Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources).
This “briefing” comes after months of strained relationships precipitated by avoidance and implications that the press is not able to understand the complexity of state government operations. Print press was not included in the recent”briefing” but word is there will be another closed door briefing for them in the near future.
The meeting ran smoothly as Wos and Skvarla presented their “good government examples” but when those present asked questions, the tensions surfaced. Of course, that is the problem. There are many questions about systems, backlogs, contracts, salaries, the conversion of positions from SPA to EPA, settlements, sudden resignations over “policy”, non-acceptance of federal funds to name a few. And, there have been very few answers. I don’t expect more than talking points at the DHHS oversight hearing the legislature holds October 8. To date, no detailed answers have been provided to detailed questions raised by legislators. And, I am confident there will also be a policy of fee for information soon at DENR, just as DHHS implemented.
For months, the Governor has requested interviews with select media outlets. The Governor’s staff has been very vocal about blasting those who report issues they don’t like. If it sounds like an odd strategy, think again. This is old school GOP strategy on top of old school state government dismantling. Clearly DHHS and DENR are about to face straight up “break down.”
The Governor has implored us to believe state government is broken. At this point, his team has certainly tattered it for a systematic restructure beginning with an untangling of federal money in DENR and DHHS. The GOP strategy is reject federal money and thereby slim down state government. When DHHS is sufficiently streamlined and divided up, perhaps Medicaid can then be addressed. This process of rejecting federal funds already started at the Employment Security Commission with the discontinuation of extended unemployment benefits.
DHHS and DENR are complex entities of regulations, processes and funding formulas. The McCrory team believes they can unwind the federal funding easily, but in reality, the process is fraught with the possibility of inequalities, biases and targeting which can easily lead to US DOJ intervention and a quagmire of state and federal legalities. The result will be more negative publicity about the quality of life in North Carolina, economic costs, and certainly costs to people and communities.
At the NC Department of Commerce, I gave Sec. Sharon Decker a pass for a “wait and see” on the new non-profit for economic development, but I now understand that she too is attempting to hold closed door meetings around the state. This news comes just after the released settlement by a former employee pertaining to job reclassification.
The road to privatization and elimination of federal funds can result in governing mayhem. The McCrory-Media dynamic should provide constant entertainment.
Update from Sept. 29, 2013 op-ed: On Tuesday, October 1, Governor McCrory’s schedule shows a closed door meeting with newspaper publishers and editorial editors.The News and Observer announced it will not participate because the meeting is off-the-record.
Jeanne Milliken Bonds is a PR Consultant, Host of Plain Talk Politics, Political Analyst and NC Spin panelist. She provides commentary on WPTF radio each Wed. morning at 10:15 am.