Image By AP

Image By AP

So here we are, North Carolina’s first female governor has been sworn in to office and it’s time to get down to business. Governor  Perdue’s, inaugural address was upbeat, she cited many acomplishments we should be proud of as a state. She acknowledged there are some challenges ahead and she said “We cannot just cut back, and I will not lower my expectations for … the people of North Carolina”. Well folks, when it comes to those expectations and the issues facing  Gov. Perdue no single issue will be as challengeing as fixing the broken state’s mental healthcare system. So why is a lobbist for a Medicaid billing/processing company, which was just awarded a $265.2 million dollar contract with the state of North Carolina, Perdue’s point man to head one of the state’s most the embattled agencies, the Department  of Health and Human Services (DHHS)?

The Charlotte Observer is reporting that  Governor Perdue’s pick, Rep. Lanier Cansler (the former Deputy DHHS secretary) is a registered lobbyist with the Virginia based Computer Sciences Corp. Folks, this pick does not equate  to Perdue’s promised reform. Furthermore, Cansler is one of the original DHHS insiders that started the state’s mental health-care reform. I don’t believe anyone would say that move was successful, in truth it has been nothing more than a fiasco and has cause many persons with mental illness and disabilities their ability to receive mental health-care and medications.

Where’s the promised accountability, eliminating the influence of lobbyists and ending the “business as usual” politics?  I am sure Cansler is qualified but just how effective will he  be making decisions and policy at DHHS that may affect  his  employer? Well no worries, that’s not going to be a problem, Cansler simply “will not participate in any decisions that constitute a conflict of interest”.

From a health policy standpoint, his choice is a good one, though his connections to private businesses and his work as a registered lobbyist will give reformers pause.

 Cansler said he had registered as a lobbyist to comply with the letter of the law but had not done any significant lobbying work. Both he and Perdue said they have agreed that he will not participate in any decisions that constitute a conflict of interest. Cansler’s complication is a concern that both he and the Perdue administration will have to watch closely.

Is a revolving door lobbyist the best we can do? Exactly what would constitute a conflict of interest in this case? Cansler career as a lobbyist perhaps? The conflict of interest lays with the fact that Governor Perdue is appointing someone to head DHHS, whose past business alliances  necessitates they be watched closely? Cansler’s “complications”  are by no means NEW to DHHS or Perdue, but Cansler’s assertion that he hasn’t done any “significant” lobbying work is laugh out loud funny and full of holes, big, wide gaping holes. From the N&O:

Cansler also worked for the company that won the Medicaid claims contract in 2004 and had it taken away two years later by then-secretary Carmen Hooker Odom.

From June 2006 to October 2006, Cansler was a lobbyist for Value Options, which evaluates mental health-care plans for Medicaid patients. Legislators want to return that job to local government mental health offices, while Value Options is fighting to keep the work.

Cansler also lobbied for the ARC of North Carolina, a private provider that does business with the state and helps shape policies on issues related to the developmentally disabled.

Um, see nothing significant (ah hem) about Cansler’s lobbying career at all, except for the fact that he has popping in and out of public works for the private sector like  a game of  “Whac-A-Mole.”  The question remains, since he and Perdue said they have agreed that he will not participate in any decisions that constitute a conflict of interest, who will preform the oversight at DHHS regarding CSC’s operations for the state of North Carolina? Prehaps, Cansler has the necessary experience, but who will come first, the state of NC and it’s patients needing mental healthcare or the company that signed Cansler paychecks?