Cooper, Berger continue to play chicken over cabinet nominations

Posted February 6

Gov. Roy Cooper begins assembling his cabinet.

— Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Senate Republicans continued playing a high-profile game of chicken over cabinet nominations Monday.

Cooper is has ask a Wake County Court to formally put the newly designed process on hold, while staffers for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger clapped back that Cooper is "being disingenuous" in his public efforts to negotiate a compromise.

"Instead of going through all of these confirmation hearings which we believe will become moot, why don’t we instead concentrate on continuing the excellent work your leadership and I are already doing on job recruitment?" Cooper wrote in a letter to Berger Monday.

Lawmakers have rarely, if ever, asserted what they insist is their constitutional prerogative to weigh in on gubernatorial cabinet appointments. That changed in December when the General Assembly passed a bill requiring cabinet appointments to undergo confirmation hearings. Then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican Cooper defeated in November, signed the law before leaving office.

Lawyers for Cooper argue the law erodes his ability to manage his administration and runs counter to a recent state Supreme Court ruling that says lawmakers aren't allowed to interfere with executive branch functions.

While this dispute has simmered in the courts, senators decided to set a schedule for confirmation hearings despite Cooper refusing so far to officially send his nominations to the legislature.

"I would prefer to work this scheduling issue out amicably rather than resorting to the courts," Cooper wrote. "To that end, I asked my legal team to try to expedite the court proceedings so that a final decision on the merits of our claims could be achieved in time for me to meet the May 15th deadline, if necessary."

The state law calls for the governor to submit the names of his cabinet nominees for confirmation by May 15.

Berger, R-Rockingham, cried foul at this, saying that, even as Cooper pleaded for an amicable solution, he was maneuvering to ask the courts to put the confirmation law on hold.

"For years, cabinet secretaries have met behind closed doors to share their qualifications and address any concerns – like conflicts of interest – legislators may have," Berger said in an email. "It is extremely disturbing that Roy Cooper is demanding the state courts keep these meetings hidden behind closed doors and out of the public eye."

A spokesman for Cooper insisted the governor is resorting to the courts only after running into a stalemate with lawmakers.

"The Governor has tried to get this resolved for weeks now, and since those efforts weren't yielding any progress, the letter was a last attempt to avoid requesting a temporary restraining order," Ford Porter said. "That motion will be filed later today if the Governor’s letter does not prompt a resolution."

Cooper's office followed through on that threat Thursday evening and a hearing is expected at 4 p.m. Tuesday.


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