Raleigh, N.C. — Noting the expanded duties of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday named two people with different backgrounds and expertise to lead the agency.
Cooper tapped state Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, as secretary of DNCR and Reid Wilson, executive director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, as chief deputy secretary.
"I think this team will work effectively together.," Cooper said.
State lawmakers two years ago split apart what was then the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, merging the "Natural Resources" parts, including state parks, the North Carolina Zoo and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, into the Department of Cultural Resources.
"You can debate whether that is a good idea or not, but we plan to make it work," Cooper said. "These two communities in our state have a lot in common because they do improve the quality of life and they are an economic driver for our state, particularly in the area of tourism."
Hamilton said her "first big-girl job out of college" was with the state Historic Preservation Office – she also has worked in the arts and in land planning – and said she looks forward to going back there.
In 2012, she cast the deciding vote in the state House to override then-Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of legislation opening North Carolina up to natural gas drilling. The North Carolina League of Conservation Voters was so upset by her vote that the group took back an award it had given her a few weeks earlier for her support of environmental causes.
On Thursday, the NCLCV praised her selection to head DNCR, noting she has "prioritized preserving North Carolina’s natural heritage" and citing her work to restore the state's historic preservation tax credit two years ago.
"As someone once said, in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests," Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations for NCLCV, said in an email to WRAL News to explain its change of heart toward Hamilton. "Over these last four years, the conservation community has been able to find common ground with Rep. Hamilton on policies that will ensure the best quality of life for North Carolina families."
Hamilton described her veto override vote Thursday as "a vote to regulate," saying the gas industry and environmental groups would have to work through a state commission on compromise regulations for drilling.
"I'm proud to say that not one well has been drilling in North Carolina as a result of that," she added.
Wilson, a former chief of staff for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said he is eager to lead an agency "that gets to work on all the things that people in North Carolina love, that makes our state so special and cherished – our parks, our museums, our history, our culture, our food, our music."