Raleigh, N.C. — Ricky Diaz, whose leap from campaign aide to a highly paid state government job became a lightning rod for Gov. Pat McCrory's administration last year, is leaving North Carolina for a position with a political relations firm in Washington, D.C.
Diaz plans to leave as communications director for the state Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 24 to become vice president of FP1 Strategies LLC, a public affairs, advertising, grassroots and media relations firm headed by Republican operatives.
"Ricky has an impressive background and a track record of success," FP1 partner Terry Nelson, who worked on President George W. Bush's 2004 campaign and Sen. John McCain's presidential bid in 2008, said in a statement. "His hands-on experience developing messages for statewide campaigns and government will help our clients effectively drive the debate and win the tough fights."
Diaz served as press secretary for McCrory's 2012 gubernatorial campaign and then joined McCrory's transition team as deputy communications director as the former Charlotte mayor assembled his administration.
Within months of McCrory taking office, Diaz had become the top spokesman at DHHS, the largest state agency, and received a $23,000 raise, despite a directive from McCrory that agencies freeze pay so the state could pay off cost overruns in the Medicaid program. Diaz's $85,000 annual salary and dearth of experience in either health policy or communications became a target of liberal groups that said McCrory rewarded cronies instead of hiring competent managers.
DHHS also was beset by a string of problems last year, from other questionable hires to technical problems with its Medicaid billing and food stamps enrollment systems to last week's revelation that nearly 49,000 Medicaid cards were sent to the wrong people. Each crisis put Diaz front and center to try to explain what went wrong and why and to defend DHHS management.