Political Commissars Coming?

Gov.-elect Pat McCrory now has lots more discretion to make state government a highly political place to work thanks to a new law passed by the N.C. General Assembly.

Lawmakers stuck a special provision into the state budget during the waning hours of the session this year that gives the new governor the authority to increase the number of “exempt” positions in the cabinet departments, such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, from 100 to 1,000 – a tenfold increase.

This change received zero public discussion or explanation.  It gives McCrory the opportunity to appoint political friends and contributors throughout state agencies.

There is sound logic for why a governor should have the ability to put a loyal management team in place that will help carry out a new administration’s agenda. Staff has a huge amount of power to make or break key priorities that a new governor might want to pursue, and it’s only right that new leadership be given the ability to put enough people in place that will really support carrying a new administration’s priorities.Traditionally, such exempt appointees were only placed into top leadership and management positions.  Now, the new governor has the authority to place political friends just about anywhere within these agencies.

However, a tenfold increase in state government employees that will be exempt from the State Personnel Act is not a good idea.  This provides too much opportunity for unqualified staff to be inserted into key professional positions.

This sort of smacks of what’s historically known as the “political commissar,” or political officer, who is responsible for the political education (ideology) and organization, and loyalty to the government of the military. According to Wikipedia, the commissaire politique (political commissary) first appeared in the French Revolution (1789–99), guarding it against anti-Revolutionary (ideological) thought and action, and so ensuring victory.

Click here to read the full text of the changes to the exempt positions in the budget amendment. It’s section 25.2E that starts on Page 141.

About the Author

Todd Miller

Todd founded the North Carolina Coastal Federation in 1982. A native of Carteret County, he was selected in 2013 as a distinguished alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he received his undergraduate and masters degrees. Todd also received The Old North State Award in 2007, the National Wetlands Community Leader Award in 2012 and the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards' Hero of Seas Award in 2015. He is a founding board member of Restore America Estuaries, a member of the Board of Visitors for the UNC Institute for the Environment and chairman of the Policy Committee for the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary Partnership. As executive director, Todd formulates the federation’s goals and policy positions, serves as the federation’s spokesperson and provides staff and operations oversight.