Horrified by the vision of legions of fired Democratic state employees, back when Jim Martin was elected Governor, Democrats changed the law so Martin couldn’t fire much of anyone – then announced (with a show of virtue) they’d gotten nasty old politics out of the state government.
But the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray: One day the typical state employee had a boss and the next he didn’t, then he figured out in place of a boss he had not a person but a set of rules (called the ‘Personnel Act’): He didn’t have quite the same job security as a tenured professor but he wasn’t far from it as long as he didn’t do anything egregious like larceny.
Which turned out to be a temptation no self-respecting man should have to bear.
The typical state employee’s day subtly changed. He fell into a rhythm, eating, sleeping, tending to his wants and needs, and placidly spending eight hours in his office receiving and filing reports on, say, coal ash ponds. Then, as the years rolled by, placidness compounded and compounded again and deepened into somnambulance until, one fine day, reality reared its head: A coal ash pond ruptured.
Pat McCrory had run for governor in 2008 and lost, toiled three years preparing to run again, built a new and stronger campaign, whipped Walter Dalton, and arrived in Raleigh full of new ideas but, when that coal ash pond ruptured, found himself face to face with an unforgiving fact: He had no one to clean up the mess except the same bureaucrats who’d spent decades blissfully asleep at the switch ignoring what had turned out to be a ticking time bomb.
Worse, wherever he looked he had the same problem. Over in the Department of Health and Human Services, they’d spent eight years and $500 million working on a new computer program but the minute the Governor pressed the go button there was a meltdown.
The program sputtered then settled into a smoking heap and the only people he had to fix it were the people who’d told him to press the button.
It seemed the Governor could set policy (and had plenty of well-meaning people like State Senators telling him what his policy ought to be) but what he really needed were people who could do things – who could fix problems. Like coal ash ponds.
So he tried a logical step: He asked the legislature to give him not the kind of unlimited power Jim Hunt had during his first two terms but a bit more power so he could replace somnambulant bureaucrats but as soon as the words were out of his mouth the State Employees Association and Democratic Legislators started hollering, accusing him of putting nasty old politics back into state government.