By Opposing the Minimum Wage, Thom Tillis Proves He’s For the Special Interests, Not Real North Carolinians

RALEIGH—Shortly after filing as a candidate for U.S. Senate yesterday, Thom Tillis told reporters that he not only opposed raising the minimum wage, but he suggested that there should not be any minimum wage at all. The exchange, reported by the Raleigh News & Observer and captured on video, raises serious questions about who Thom Tillis intends to represent in the U.S. Senate.

Will Tillis, ALEC’s legislator of the year, represent special interests and corporate campaign contributors or does he want to go to Washington to represent the people of North Carolina, many of whom are struggling to get by, working two or three jobs just to make ends meet?

“Does Tillis want to fight for Walter, the guy who works at Wal-Mart, or the billionaire Walton Family that owns Wal-Mart,” said Justin Guillory of Progress NC Action. “Tillis record in the state legislature and his bluster on the campaign trail suggests he’s not going to fight for the little guy.”


Progress NC Action Calls on Renew NC to Reimburse the State for Employees Time and Expenses

RALEIGH—Progress NC Action today called on Renew North Carolina, Gov. McCrory’s shadow campaign organization, to reimburse the state for the time and expenses spent by state employees to benefit Gov. McCrory’s reelection prospects. That includes travel expenses from the State Highway Patrol’s protection detail and the daily salary of State Budget Director Art Pope and Economic Advisor Tony Almeida who took part in policy discussions with anonymous donors during work hours today.

We don’t know how many state employees took part in the two-day Renew NC fundraiser at the Grandover Resort near Greensboro because Renew NC won’t release an agenda or any other information about their activities.

Leaders of Renew NC acknowledged in late 2012 that this “dark-money” vessel was created to support Gov. McCrory’s agenda, but the group’s real purpose appears to be propping up the Governor’s lagging poll numbers with hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign-style TV ads.

Because Renew NC’s donors enjoy no contribution limits and are not disclosed, the organization can easily become a vehicle to practice pay-to-play politics, and the public would not know it. This week’s fundraiser is set up as a policy retreat where corporate lobbyists, among others, can rub elbows with top McCrory administration officials.

“Renew NC should reimburse the state for any taxpayer money used to support Gov. McCrory’s reelection efforts,” said Gerrick Brenner of Progress NC Action. “Moreover, if Gov. McCrory’s shadow campaign really wants to ‘renew’ North Carolina they could start by scheduling a meeting between McCrory and working people who are struggling to find health care coverage because of his decision not to expand Medicaid, instead of selling access to corporate lobbyists.”


McCrory Panders To Tea Party Loons

Did Gov. McCrory Support Heritage’s Crazy Shutdown Scheme?

RALEIGH—Just one week after Tea Party crazies brought our nation to the brink of default, one week after thousands of federal employees saw the end of their furloughs, just one week after a federal government shutdown cost the people of North Carolina millions of dollars, just one week after Heritage’s crazy shutdown scheme failed miserably, Gov. McCrory seeks to curry favor with those people that have shown they care only about defeating President Obama and nothing about the people of North Carolina. And they proved themselves to be pretty lousy at it too.

On the day that Gov. McCrory travels to Washington D.C. to meet with the Tea Party Heritage Foundation, Progress NC Action asks why? Why would Gov. McCrory want to associate with the suicidal Tea Party crowd that has launched a war within in the Republican Party?

Is Gov. McCrory coming down on the side of Ted Cruz?

Is McCrory supporting the Republicans in Congress that three-quarters of America (74%) disapproves of?

Did McCrory support the shutdown?

The actions of Gov. McCrory’s administration during the shutdown—including shutting down WIC payments and stopping Work First applications—sure indicates that he was complicit in making the shutdown painful on the people of North Carolina. Remember, North Carolina was the ONLY state in the nation to cut WIC during the shutdown.  And North Carolina was the only state in the nation to cut Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds during the shutdown.  No other state made these cuts.

“While Gov. McCrory avoids tough questions back at home, it’s telling that he’s happy to meet with the leaders of the Tea Party in Washington, D.C.,” said Gerrick Brenner of Progress NC Action. “Clearly Gov. McCrory is more comfortable pandering to the Ted Cruz wing of the Republican Party.”

“Instead of propping up hostage-takers and new-age anarchists, Gov. McCrory should preach sanity and responsible governance to the Tea Party.  And if Gov. McCrory wants to talk fiscal responsibility today, he should tell Heritage, the debt deniers, and other Tea Party groups to pay back the $24 billion that Standard & Poor’s says was lost as the shutdown slowed the American economy.”


Progress North Carolina Action Calls on Tea Party to Pay Back $24 Billion to the U.S. Economy

RALEIGH—Progress North Carolina Action today called on the Tea Party to pay back the $24 billion that the needless government shutdown cost our national economy. Perhaps Congressman Mark Meadows can start by passing the hat amongst the Koch Brothers, Heritage Action, Freedom Works, Ted Cruz and Meadows’ original 80 supporters in the U.S. House.

Standard & Poor’s calculated that the shutdown took $24 billion out of the economy. The S&P wrote, “The bottom line is the government shutdown has hurt the U.S. economy. In September, we expected 3% annualized growth in the fourth quarter because we thought politicians would have learned from 2011 and taken steps to avoid things like a government shutdown and the possibility of a sovereign default. Since our forecast didn’t hold, we now have to lower our fourth-quarter growth estimate to closer to 2%.”

While the shutdown was a blow to the national economy, it was even worse for thousands of affected North Carolinians. Among the shutdown’s local effects:

  • Shutting down National Parks and Forests, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the midst of peak leaf season. Closure of national parks cost North Carolina an estimated $4.4 million each day.
  • Thousands of North Carolina workers furloughed, including 7,000 civilians at Fort Bragg, 800 at Camp Lejeune and 300 at Cherry Point,  2,000 at the EPA in RTP, another 1,300 at the National Institute for Environment Health Sciences and 337 at DHHS.
  • An unnecessary stop in granting WIC benefits to young children and expectant mothers.
  • An end to processing Work First benefits.
  • Disrupted benefits to North Carolina’s 771,654 veterans.

Progress North Carolina Action also gives a big “Thanks, But No Thanks” to the five other North Carolina Members of Congress who joined Meadows in voting against reopening the government. Apparently, Renee Ellmers, Richard Hudson, Virginia Foxx, Walter Jones and George Holding are OK with an even longer government shutdown.

“Tea Party Republicans accomplished nothing but damage to our economy and their own reputation,” said Gerrick Brenner of Progress NC Action. “It’s unfortunate that Renee Ellmers did not follow her own advice back in August when she accurately predicted that an attempt to defund Obamacare through a government shutdown would have a ‘devastating effect’ and result in huge backlash against the Tea Party.”

“North Carolina’s Tea Party Members of Congress owe our nation an apology—or a really big check.”


The Incredible Shrinking Mark Meadows Owes America An Apology

“Architect” of the Shutdown Nearly Silent As His Anti-Obamacare Conspiracy Crumbles

ASHEVILLE—Progress NC Action today called on Congressman Mark Meadows to apologize for his crazy crusade against Obamacare and for leading the US House of Representatives down a dead-end path to a government shutdown. The American people have soundly rejected Meadows’ plan to defund Obamacare through a government shutdown, and soon his fellow Congressmen will give up as well. But in the process, Meadows and his fools-errand shutdown scheme have cost this nation time, treasure, and hardship for hundreds of thousands of furloughed workers and small business owners, including those inside and surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was closed by the GOP shutdown.

The pending deal to reopen the government and avoid default would neither defund nor delay Obamacare. But the man who was called the “architect” of the shutdown has been nearly silent as the GOP caves to mounting pressure. Gone is the bravado of a Tea Party revolt inside the Republican caucus. The revolt is reduced to a tantrum that’s holding the nation hostage only to stall and save face from total embarrassment.

Why? Because Meadows’ plan is a loser.  Meadows’ shutdown scheme was predicted to fail. And polling shows his party is paying a heavy price for their extremist tacitcs. Mark Meadows should now apologize to his party, his constituents, and the American people.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows the American people blame Republicans for the shutdown by a 22-point margin. According to NBC the fallout is damaging the party, “The Republican Party has been badly damaged in the ongoing government shutdown and debt limit standoff…the party’s popularity declin[ed] to its lowest level.”

According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 74% of Americans disapprove of Republicans during the shutdown. The Washington Post says Republicans are “losing and badly.”

“Mark Meadows’ scheme to delay Obamacare has imploded into complete failure,” said Gerrick Brenner of Progress NC Action. “Everyone knows it. It’s amazing to see Meadows send out e-newsletters and internet surveys which now don’t even mention an effort to defund Obamacare.  Meadows hopes voters forget.  Instead, Mark Meadows should take responsibility for this ill-fated government shutdown. Mark Meadows owes the American people an apology.”


DHHS Oversight Grades “Incomplete” After First Hearing

RALEIGH—The day after lawmakers finally exercised their oversight authority over the hapless Department of Health and Human Services, some questions still remain unanswered, while new questions arise over DHHS’ tinkering with its response to the Medicaid audit.


- Governor McCrory approved salary increases for Ricky Diaz and Matthew McKillip.

- Sec. Aldona Wos says she doesn’t have bodyguards.

- DHHS leadership thinks it is doing a good job.

- DHHS thinks public records requests are a waste of their time.



- Why was Thomas Adams employment cut short after one month and why was he given a $37,000 severance package?

- How do we know we are getting the best applicants for key positions and not political cronies?

- Why did Les Merritt need a $900,000 contract, instead of just hiring a new Mental Health CFO?



- What will be DHHS’ response to the explosive report from NC Health News that found DHHS officials editing the department’s response to the State Auditor’s audit of the Medicaid program, effectively changing the perception of the effectiveness of the program. The report undermines the McCrory administration’s key talking point—and scapegoat—that Medicaid is broken.

- What will Wos do to restore public confidence in DHHS? There is probably little she can do, until the Department or Gov. McCrory admit that mistakes have been made.

- Will Wos face lawmakers again?


Five Questions For DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos

RALEIGH—For the first time in months we MAY get real answers from DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos when she takes questions from an NCGA oversight committee. Here are five questions Progress NC Action would like answered.


1) Were the jobs held by two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign staffers ever publicly advertised and were any other applicants considered? If not, how can we be sure they were the best choices?

2) With so many problems facing DHHS, why does it appear that the top qualification for getting hired at DHHS is to be a current or former Republican activist?

3) Why was Thomas Adams employment cut short after one month and why was he given a $37,000 severance package?

4) Who are Aldona Wos’ bodyguards? Who is paying them? And why are they blocking reporters from asking her questions?

5) What is Sec. Wos going to do to restore the public trust in DHHS?



Department in Distress: A Minefield Initialed D-H-H-S

RALEIGH—In case you missed it, yesterday North Carolina’s new Medicaid Director, Carol Steckel, suddenly resigned after only eight months on the job. Steckel’s departure leaves Gov. McCrory’s plans to privatize Medicaid in the lurch and is another blow to an agency in distress. To summarize, Progress NC Action has created the following timeline of DHHS potholes and pratfalls.


Dec. 13 -

McCrory selects his campaign chair and chief fundraiser Aldona Wos to be the new DHHS Secretary. According to tax records and campaign finance reports, Wos, her husband Louis DeJoy and employees of their company, New Breed Logistics, have donated over $240,000 to the McCrory election effort.


Feb. 6 -

DHHS issues a dress code for employees, that was quickly rescinded. Denim was on the “do not wear” list.


Feb. 7 -

Diana Lightfoot resigns before ever starting the job as head of early childhood education after it was revealed that she doesn’t believe in early childhood education and her personal twitter account was full of crazy rants about Hillary Clinton’s sexuality and a Japanese earthquake caused by ultrasonic waves from China.


March 8 -

Blaming Medicaid cost overruns, McCrory issues a directive calling for a state salary freeze.


April 3 -

In a press conference, Wos suggests that transparency can be dangerous.


July 30 -

State Health Director Dr. Laura Gerald resigns, citing disagreements with the policy direction of DHHS.


Aug. 14 -

Sarah Ovaska of NC Policy Watch breaks the story about two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign staffers that received big raises after the March 8 directive. Ricky Diaz and Matthew McKillip got pay increases of $23,000 and $22,500 respectively and now make $85,000 and $87,500 a year. McKillip is now Sec. Wos’ chief policy advisor despite no evidence that he has any experience in health care policy.


Aug. 15 -

Gov. McCrory defended the raises for his two young campaign staffers, suggesting they beat out older job applicants: “They were actually moved over to areas that frankly a lot of older people applied for, too.”

A bodyguard prevented a reporter from asking Wos questions at a public event.


Aug. 16 - 

WRAL finds that 280 full-time workers at DHHS received raises totaling $1.7 million after the March 8 directive. Among those that received raises was Anthony Vellucci, the IT director for NC FAST—which is the midst of its own problems failing to provide hungry families with food stamps.


Aug 17 -

Reporters are blocked from asking questions to Wos by security guards.


Aug. 23 -

NC Policy Watch reports that Wos’ personal secretary, Kristy Craig, 25, was given a 30% raise in April.


Aug. 28 -

The Associated Press reports that DHHS cannot produce any evidence that the jobs of Diaz and McKillip were ever posted publicly—in contradiction to McCrory’s statement on Aug. 15.


Sep. 4 -

DHHS hires lobbyist, filmmaker and Republican operative Aaron Mullins as a “brand and marketing manager.” Mullins was paid by the McCrory campaign to produce a glowing Election Night video.


Sep. 5 -

The Raleigh News & Observer reports that a business associate of Wos and her husband, Joe Hauck, was paid more than $228,000 for only eight months of work on a personal services contract to DHHS. Hauck’s contract is set to expire on Nov. 30 and is capped at $310,000. Hauck also was a contributor to McCrory gubernatorial campaign, giving $6,500 in total.

Additionally, former Republican State Auditor Les Merritt was hired by DHHS on contract and was paid $58,500 in June and July.


Sep. 9 -

DHHS fires the state’s top dentist.


Sep. 13 -

WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson criticizes DHHS for delays and cost overruns. In addition, Atkinson called the relationship between WakeMed and DHHS “nonexistent” saying he has no communication with Wos.


Sep. 17 -

The N&O reports that DHHS hired McCrory contributor and Tea Party activist, Mardy Peal, as a senior planner for McCrory’s new Medicaid privatization scheme. Peal was a lecturer at the ECU School of Medicine, but has been working as a stay-at-home mom for more than a decade. She is now making $95,000 a year, but her position was not publicly advertised.


Sep. 18 -

In a bizarre press conference, McCrory defends Wos and DHHS and argues that reports about state government employee salaries is an invasion of privacy.


Sep. 20 -

NC Policy Watch reports Wos and State Budget Director Art Pope approved a $37,000 settlement for a DHHS employee that worked only one month at the department. Thomas Adams, Wos’ chief of staff, left the agency for unknown reasons but ultimately received more than $51,000 for one month of work.

In a News14 interview, Wos says she wishes she could pay Diaz and McKillip even more.

The AP reports that problems with NC FAST have led to a run on North Carolina food banks.


Sep. 21 -

The Henderson Daily Dispatch is the first newspaper to call on Wos to resign.


Sep. 23 -

Medicaid Director Carol Steckel resigns after just eight months on the job.


So what does all of this mean? It adds up to an agency under duress and one that has lost the confidence of the public.

“Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos have big plans for the future of Medicaid, but how can they possibly succeed when they’ve lost all credibility,” said Gerrick Brenner of Progress NC Action. “Most frustrating of all, they won’t even admit to the most obvious of problems.”


Despite Mounting Evidence, McCrory Digs In, Defends DHHS, and Suggests Public Salaries Deserve Secrecy

RALEIGH—In a startling press conference yesterday, Gov. Pat McCrory defended the Department of Health and Human Services and the leadership of Secretary Aldona Wos. Progress NC Action is amazed that McCrory continues to defend the agency despite mounting evidence of cronyism within the department. McCrory, of course, campaigned as someone who would put an end to cronyism and corruption in state government.

McCrory went so far as to suggest that scrutiny of public officials’ salaries was a breach of privacy. Instead, we should all be flabbergasted by the Governor’s disregard for transparency and suggestion that public salaries should not be… public.

The reality is that Gov. McCrory simply doesn’t like having his dirty laundry aired in public.  To recall:

- Two 24-year-old former campaign staffers received 30% pay increases and now make more than $85,000 each. Sec. Wos also gave her personal secretary a 30% raise.

- Sec. Wos handed out a $300,000 personal services contract to her husband’s employee.

- Sec. Wos. rewarded a McCrory Tea Party loyalist with a $95,000 salary for a position to help privatize Medicaid.

McCrory said: “I am concerned that the line is being moved continually about the intrusion into people’s private lives.” No, the line on public disclosure of public salaries has not moved at all.  The Governor has simply, grossly crossed the line of cronyism and hypocrisy.  And he refuses to admit it.  McCrory’s typical excuse for rewarding loyalists with high salaries is that he is looking for talent, not experience.  But repeatedly, DHHS cannot show any application process or real talent search for jobs which have not been publicly posted.

McCrory even tried to distance himself from the hiring decisions. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, McCrory told reporters he can’t micromanage his cabinet secretaries. But this DHHS memo from March 12th clearly states that hiring for exempt positions must be approved by the Governor’s Office.

“McCrory is full of excuses for his bad poll numbers and mismanagement of state government,” said Gerrick Brenner of Progress NC Action. “But the first step is admitting you have a problem. Gov. McCrory, you have a cronyism problem, and you need to admit it. Then you can clean up the mess at DHHS.”


So Much for McCrory’s Culture of Customer Service

Will the Governor step on a few toes to get DHHS back on track?

RALEIGH—Progress NC Action today called on Gov. McCrory to take any and all measures necessary to get NC FAST, the computer system in charge of food stamps, working again. According to a WRAL report last week, “cuts to unemployment benefits in North Carolina and continued problems with the state computer system that processes food stamp benefits have created a domino effect that has started toppling food banks across the state.”

McCrory is ultimately responsible for both causes that have created the food bank crisis.

Changes to North Carolina’s unemployment insurances laws would require action by the General Assembly, but Gov. McCrory has the power to fix NC FAST—a program of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Unfortunately, McCrory appears unwilling to make changes at DHHS. According to WNCN, despite NC FAST’s repeated failures, the program’s IT director, Anthony Vellucci, was given a $23,000 raise in June. Of course, Vellucci isn’t the only DHHS manager who has received a significant pay increase.

One month after the salary scandal broke, DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos continues to come under withering fire for giving two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign staffers 35% raises, putting their salaries above $85,000 a year. Wos also gave her 25-year-old personal secretary a 30% raise and gave an executive at her husband’s company a $300,000 personal services contract.  ”McCrory’s Shameless Cronyism“  read the title of this past Sunday’s editorial in the Henderson Times-News in Hendersonville.

Gov. McCrory continues to claim that his young campaign staffers were hired because their talent beat out older applicants.  But the AP has revealed that DHHS has failed to show any evidence of a job advertisement or competitive application process.  And just this weekend, a veteran public health journalist revealed in a Raleigh News & Observer Op-Ed how the DHHS Communications Department has been reduced to a stonewalling bunker which has had security run interference between news reporters and the DHHS Secretary.

“No matter how many mistakes Wos makes, McCrory continues to stand by his former campaign chair and chief fundraiser,” said Gerrick Brenner of Progress NC Action. “We think it is time McCrory actually step on some toes and make the changes necessary at DHHS to get NC FAST back on track”

“Remember, this is the Governor who called for a culture of customer service. Instead of ensuring the well-being of thousands of North Carolina families, McCrory has sent them to soup kitchens and bread lines.”