Cooper administration may not cooperate with Senate confirmation process

Posted January 31
Updated February 2

— Senators on Tuesday laid out a two-month timetable for confirming Gov. Roy Cooper's nominees to head various state agencies, but the governor said his administration may not cooperate with the process.

"I would hope all of these would be confirmed," Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, said during a 10-minute session to lay out the committee's procedures.

Rabon said senators would be looking to ensure the candidate was qualified, had no conflicts of interest and would "obey the law." He also mentioned that Cooper had not formally submitted his nominations to the Senate for confirmation.

Cooper said there shouldn't be formal hearings until a court had weighed in on the relatively new confirmation law.

Senators have not exercised what they say is their constitutional prerogative to confirm or reject cabinet picks in decades. But after Cooper, a Democrat, defeated former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory last year, GOP legislative leaders instituted a new confirmation requirement for gubernatorial cabinet appointments.

Cooper has sued to stop the law, saying it treads on his executive authority. That lawsuit is pending before a three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court.

"Our secretaries are absolutely going to go over an talk with General Assembly members. They’ve been doing so and will continue to do so, and we want to have that free flow of information," he said. "It’s just that we need to discuss this confirmation process because it is under litigation, and it’s something that the court is going to decide and we want to discuss how we go forward with the senate and leave that issue open until we can come to some resolution."

The governor has publicly tapped eight of his 10 cabinet agency heads, including former state Reps. Larry Hall, D-Durham, and Susie Hamilton, D-New Hanover, to head the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, respectively.

In a release last week, the administration said those cabinet appointees had been sworn in and were heading their agencies.

"I want my cabinet secretaries to be working with legislators at every turn," Cooper said. "I want them to be testifying over in committee meetings and making sure they’re carrying out the laws that the legislature passes and the policy directives that we present from the executive branch."

"As long as Gov. Cooper’s cabinet nominees have nothing to hide and are free of conflicts of interest, willing to follow the law and qualified, he should advise them they have nothing to worry about and encourage them to comply with the law," said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Rabon and his co-chairman, Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union.

Under the process laid out Tuesday, nominees would first go to the committee on the subject matter their agency oversees. So, for example, Cooper's nominee to head the Department of Transportation, Jim Trogdon, would appear before the Senate Transportation Committee before getting a final review by the Nominations Committee. The full Senate would then approve or reject the nomination.

Hall is scheduled to be the first nominee to face the confirmation gauntlet in early February. Mandy Cohen, a former Obama administration official tapped to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is the last nominee scheduled for confirmation.

Cohen's March 9 hearing, if it happens, could be the most fraught, since her nomination was cited as one reason lawmakers sued Cooper in federal court to stop his efforts to expand North Carolina's Medicaid program. Her background has been repeatedly blasted by the Carolina Partnership for Reform, a nonprofit group with links to the Senate's top leaders.

Cooper has not yet nominated anyone to head his departments of Information Technology or Revenue.

"We’re still looking and making decisions about those last two positions," he said. "Obviously, with Revenue, you’ve got people with tax laws, and with (IT), you’ve got people that need to know a broad array of technology and management and procurement skills."


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