Legislature Considers Increasing Political Jobs
Early in his presidency, Abraham Lincoln could barely stand the pressure.
"I hardly have a chance to eat or sleep. I am fair game for everybody of that hungry lot," Lincoln wrote.
No, it wasn't secession and a looming Civil War that kept him up at night. It was the demands of friends and political allies wanting political patronage jobs.
Since Lincoln's day, civil service reform at both the federal and state level has meant fewer and fewer political patronage appointments and more government jobs filled based on merit.
Today, political patronage at the state level is most often associated with appointments to boards and commissions. In North Carolina, governors and legislative leaders reward political supporters with highly-coveted positions on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors or the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
That's not to suggest that political patronage jobs have disappeared.
All levels of government operate with a recognition that the top executive needs loyal lieutenants running the bureaucracy. So, exemptions are carved out in civil service laws giving presidents and governors complete control over some government jobs, allowing them to hire and fire people in those positions at will.
Department secretaries, deputy secretaries, agency spokespeople and those working in the Oval Office or in a governor's office typically work without civil service protection, knowing that their jobs are dependent on the political fortunes of their elected bosses.
In North Carolina, nearly 450 people who work in executive branch agencies and offices under the governor's control serve at the whim of the governor.
The Republican-led legislature seems intent on more than doubling that number.
A provision in the state Senate's proposed budget would allow the next governor to fill up to 1,000 jobs with political appointees. A separate provision would permit the governor to set salaries for agency heads and their chief deputies. The salaries are currently established by law.
(The provision doesn't come with additional money, meaning the next governor would likely be forced to rely on some vacant positions to boost any salaries at the top.)
State Sen. Richard Stevens, a Wake County Republican and a co-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the next governor should "have the flexibility to get the best people in these jobs."
His opinion is probably shared by some in state government.
Especially in the highly complex Department of Health and Human Services, with its multi-billion budget and thousands of employees, a lack of flexibility at the upper management level probably hinders governors when it comes to addressing problems in the agency.
On the other hand, some of the worst political scandals in U.S. history have been associated with political patronage. Loyalty is one thing; cronyism and nepotism are something else.
The move to expand "exempt" positions may also reflect Republican legislators' confidence in the prospects of GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory.
But as that most renowned of Republican presidents might tell them, they may be doing McCrory no favors.