Gov.-elect Pat McCrory announced three cabinet appointments and trio of key staff hires in a news conference Thursday.
He named as his top budget official Art Pope, a conservative political financier and former state legislator. Pope will take a leave from his business interests, his foundation and from all public and nonprofit boards he serves on in order to assume the job, for which he will be a non-paid volunteer, McCrory said.
Dome has learned that Pope has resigned from the board of directors of Americans for Prosperity effective immediately Thursday. He was one of three directors on the board of the national organization.
Pope, who owns Variety Wholesalers, a retail chain that includes Roses and Maxwell stores, has been working as McCrory’s transition co-chairman. His new title will be deputy budget director, but that’s because by law the governor is the budget director. Pope will be the top staffer in developing the governor’s budgets.
In recent years Pope has used his money to bankroll groups that advocate conservative causes, such as the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation. He also has close ties to Americans for Prosperity, another conservative advocacy group.
McCrory also named Kieran Shanahan, a prominent Raleigh attorney and former federal prosecutor, to be the new secretary of the Department of Public Safety. Shanahan is a former Raleigh city councilman and a top GOP fundraiser.
Susan Kluttz, a former mayor of Salisbury and current city council member there, will serve as secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources. Kluttz was recently named to a new statewide group of civic and business leaders who will advance an agenda of economic growth and development.
McCrory selected Lyons Gray to be his secretary of the Department of Revenue. Gray, who lives in Winston-Salem, is a former, six-term state legislator and former chief financial officer with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. He was a senior advisor to UNC system President Tom Ross.
Bob Stephens, a Charlotte attorney, was named as McCrory’s chief legal counsel. Stephens has been a practicing attorney for about 40 years, he said.
Chris Walker, who has been the spokesman for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign and for U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, was named communications director.
There are three more cabinet positions to fill, in the departments of commerce, transportation and administration. Last week McCrory announced the selection of John Skvarla as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, and Aldona Vos to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.
Update: The N.C. Democratic Party was quick to respond to the choice of Pope, who has been a lightning rod for criticism by liberal groups because of his high-dollar financing of conservative causes. The party called him an extremist who is buying influence.
Clay Pittman, North Carolina Democratic Party Spokesman, issued the following statement:
“We’d like to be shocked. It should be a surprise that Art Pope, the ringleader of North Carolina’s right wing, has been appointed Deputy Budget Director. It should be unexpected to see that Governor-Elect McCrory, once a moderate, progressive mayor, has cast his lot with the far-right. However, over the course of the 2012 campaign, and in this transition period, Pat McCrory has shown his true colors. It appears that a full-scale Pay-to-Play system has taken hold of the executive branch, where special interests, high-dollar donors, and the leaders of the right wing will have control of the Governor’s Mansion. This is a disappointment, but far from surprising.”
UPDATE: Pope has also resigned from two Civitas boards in North Carolina.
Here's a statement from AFP President Tim Phillips: "As a founding Board Member, Art has been a wise leader and good friend over the years, and contributed greatly to the growth and success of Americans for Prosperity. We wish him all the best in this new opportunity.”
Also, a statement from Dallas Woodhouse, director of the North Carolina chapter of AFP: “Art has contributed real leadership and wisdom to AFP, and we’re happy to see him being honored with this appointment by Governor Elect-McCrory. While Art’s most important role was that of a broad vision setting member of the organization, not the daily operations of the North Carolina Chapter, his occasional advice and counsel is something that will be deeply missed. It has been the honor of a lifetime to get to know this kind and generous man personally, and I’m confident millions of North Carolina citizens can look forward to bright new days ahead in the state under Governor McCrory and Deputy Budget Director Pope.”