McCrory adds to incoming Cabinet

Dec. 13, 2012 @ 08:57 PM

North Carolina Gov.-elect Pat McCrory named a close political ally and a veteran business executive on Thursday to join his Cabinet, bringing outsiders to state government to tackle two complex agencies.

McCrory chose Dr. Aldona Wos of Greensboro to be his secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, while John Skvarla of Pinehurst will become secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In addition to his first two Cabinet picks, McCrory said transition team executive director Thomas Stith will be his chief of staff after he gets sworn in Jan. 5.

The Republican McCrory said he'd like his entire eight-member Cabinet in place before taking his oath.

"I'm looking for talented individuals to join our team to run government in the most effective way possible," McCrory said at a news conference in Raleigh, saying he personally recruited the trio to join his administration. "Thomas, Aldona and John certainly meet those qualifications, and I am excited that they have agreed to be part of this team."

Wos, a physician and former U.S. ambassador to Estonia, also worked on McCrory's gubernatorial campaign as a fundraiser and leading the "Women for McCrory" movement. She's also been a leader on McCrory's transition team.

Wos will oversee the state health and human services agency, which spends more than 20 percent of the state's $20 billion annual budget. The agency manages several billion more dollars in federal funds, mostly associated with Medicaid, which already covers nearly 1.6 million residents. The agency could be on the verge of a large expansion if the state agrees to expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income people as part of the Affordable Care Act.

McCrory sought Wos for the job because he said she's extremely intelligent and is an outsider who won't be tied down to the agenda of interest groups seeking to influence the administration's health policy. She'll also advise him on federal health issues.

"We have presently many difficult challenges and coming our way are more difficult challenges," Wos said, but "they are really opportunities." Wos said she would work tirelessly to fulfill McCrory's vision. "We need to bring excellence, availability, accountability and affordability to those we serve," she added.

Skvarla currently is chief executive of Restoration Systems of Raleigh, which helps developers and other companies mitigate environmental losses caused by building projects by cleaning up and improving streams and wetlands. The mitigation projects meet requirements of state and federal regulators.

Under his tenure, Skvarla said, "the environment will be protected."

Still, McCrory's choice reflects a departure from recent DENR secretaries who've been career government employees or regulators. Skvarla has an extensive law and business career that includes investment banking and operating an all-cargo airline and chain of physical therapy centers.

McCrory said Skvarla reflects his view of walking "that fine line between continuing our economic prosperity while also protecting the quality of life and environment that brought many of us here." McCrory and other Republicans have said environmental regulations have become too much of an obstacle for business to grow. The GOP-led Legislature reduced spending within DENR in 2011 by 12 percent.

Skvarla "understands business growth and how to cut through red tape," McCrory said. "This is an entrepreneur who also understands the environment."

McCrory's choice of Stith to run the Governor's Office wasn't surprising since he's already been managing more than 20 people working to assemble the new administration. Stith is a former Durham City Council member who most recently worked at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Skvarla, who is a registered unaffiliated voter, was the founder of a group that encouraged congressional candidates to pledge to give large amounts of their personal money to charity if they serve more time in Congress or a legislature than they promise. Wos is a native of Poland whose father survived a Nazi concentration camp in Germany. She served as ambassador to Estonia for two years during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Stith, who is black, choked up with emotion when he recalled how his ancestors arrived as slaves in North Carolina, working at a plantation in Tarboro. His late father was a civil rights pioneer who participated in a sit-in at Durham ice cream parlor three years before the more famous sit-in at a Greensboro lunch counter.

"Each generation has built on the dream of prosperity and economic independence," said Stith, who like Wos is a Republican. "I don't take that legacy lightly and will work to ensure that North Carolina is a place for prosperity for all of our citizens."