Lawmakers leave town after passing bill limiting Cooper's, education board's power

Posted December 16, 2016
Updated December 17, 2016

— The General Assembly passed a bill Friday that strips incoming Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper of some powers before he takes office. The bill also takes away power from the State Board of Education and transfers it to the newly elected Republican state superintendent.

The move was one of the final actions of a three-day special session criticized by Democrats and scores of protesters. House Bill 17 is now headed to Gov. Pat McCrory, who narrowly lost to Cooper.

"Once more, the courts will have to clean up the mess the legislature made, but it won't stop us from moving North Carolina forward," Cooper said in a statement.

On Thursday, he threatened to sue the General Assembly if he deems any of the legislation they passed in the session to be unconstitutional.

The bill, which was introduced Wednesday night, does the following to Cooper:

  • Reduces the number of exempt positions under Cooper's supervision from 1,500 to 425. The original bill dropped it to 300, but the number was increased in the Senate version. Exempt positions are those that a governor can hire or fire at will, either because they are managers or because their job is somewhat political in nature. Although former Gov. Bev Perdue had roughly 500 such positions under her control, GOP lawmakers gave McCrory 1,500 to work with.
  • Removes gubernatorial appointments to the boards of trustees that run each campus in the University of North Carolina system. Those appointments would be would be transferred to the General Assembly.
  • Requires Senate confirmation for gubernatorial cabinet appointments. Although the state constitution allows this, the legislature hasn't exercised this power in recent memory.

The bill also would give state Superintendent-elect Mark Johnson more flexibility in managing the state's education budget, more authority to dismiss senior level employees and the ability to choose the leader of the new Achievement School District, which will oversee some of the lowest-performing schools in the state. Those powers are currently under the State Board of Education's control.

Johnson released a statement Friday, saying the bill "will help usher in an era of greater transparency at (the Department of Public Instruction) by eliminating the more confusing aspects of the relationship between the N.C. superintendent and the N.C. Board of Education."

"This will better serve constituents visiting Raleigh as our working relationship will be more similar to how local superintendents and their respective boards of education work together across North Carolina," his statement continued. "I thank the N.C. House and N.C. Senate for their hard work on these straight-forward, common-sense reforms."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey have criticized the bill, saying it raises constitutional concerns and eliminates checks and balances.

"This has the potential to change the department from a nonpartisan agency to a partisan agency, and I find that troubling," Atkinson, a Democrat who lost her re-election bid to Johnson, said Thursday. "I think (board members) are concerned about how the passage of this bill will affect the working relationship (with Johnson)."

The State Board of Education plans to hold a meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the legislation.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said he spoke with Johnson about the changes presented in the bill, including a change that gives the new superintendent more authority over state education staff, and Johnson thought it was a good idea.

"From my business days and days in the military, when I moved into a job, I needed my people," Horn said.

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, said he also spoke with Johnson.

"Most of what we're doing is clarifying the constitutional role of the superintendent," Barefoot said. "I can yell you from personal experience that the superintendent needs more administrative control over his department."

Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, said the level of political influence Republicans are trying to assume over DPI "quite frankly scares me and should scare anyone who cares about public education."

Democrats have their own track record of partisan power grabs, said Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the state Republican Party.

"You can like it, you can not like it, but I would say this is something that's been done through history," Woodhouse said. "Part of it is this is the result of divided government. This is the result of voters picking a strong Republican legislature and a Democrat governor by a fingernail."


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  • Susan Eaton Dec 18, 2016
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    Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Apt for all parties.

  • Susan Eaton Dec 18, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    these guys only know "right" as in the opposite of "left". They have no ethics and trying to portray this powermongers game as righting anything is absurd.

  • Susan Eaton Dec 18, 2016
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    the latter. They are corrupt powermongers without morals or ethics. My current rep is a retired brigadier general. Apparently he spent many years in the military to defend Republicans, not democracy.

  • Carol Smith Dec 17, 2016
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    Good riddance to berger. The lies, the pettiness, arrogance, etc.

  • Dolly Butler Dec 17, 2016
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    The excuses that the Republicans are using for the laws that they passed the past 2 days ... to show North Carolina how past wrongs make present rights ...very Christian idea and nice display of same at this time of year....All those elected officials from the rural parts of NC should find some positive ways to help the angry people in the small NC towns ...Why hasn't the Internet been extended to the rural areas? And what about dissolving that Rural Board that was specifically founded to help the rural areas? ....The Republican legislature is truly a do-nothing group when it comes to making things better for rural North Carolina ..but those angry people out in the rural areas who voted for them ..and for Donald Trump ...just cut their noses off to spite their faces. So, now those voters should get to work and do something about their own situation and stop criticizing and penalizing the Triangle and Triad.

  • Douglas Vought Dec 17, 2016
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    Wew lad. Our state has lost out on $400 million of economic prosperity as a result of HB2 (beloved Pat Mcrory made it happen) [1]. I don't think I trust your judgment on what that right path is.

    No matter what you believe, HB2 was a poor decision that will have lasting effects on our economy. Republican lawmakers failed us. They are supposed to research the far-reaching effects of legislation they intend on passing. Instead they let their feelings overpower the actual effects of a trash bill.

    If I can't trust Republicans to make good decisions that bring business to NC (instead of repelling it to the tune of $400 million), then there is no good reason to ever hand them power again.

    We weren't on the right path under Mcrory. The only people who think that value morality over the prosperity of our state.

    1. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.businessinsider.com/north-carolina-hb2-economic-impact-2016-9?client=ms-android-verizo

  • Pete Muller Dec 17, 2016
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    Mr. Ragan. See the opportunity here. If you own land that sits idle, lease it to a wind or solar farm. It gives you long term revenue. For the better quality land, grow those organic crops that people from NY living in Cary like to spend much money on. There is growing demand for that. Instead of complaining about those Democratic leaning educated professionals. find a way to profit from. We live in America.

  • Larry Price Dec 16, 2016
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    is there more to this?? 500 for perdue, bump it up to 1500 for McCrory, then drop is back to 425 for cooper?? If there's not more to this, the Legislature has no shame!!

  • Carrie Hurrelbrink Dec 16, 2016
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    Ha ha Cooper!

  • Andrew Stephenson Dec 16, 2016
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    If you think Roy Cooper is "uber-leftist" what is "middle left" to you?

    I feel like anyone who is accused of being a "leftist" is always said to be extreme left, not middle left. But I suppose from the far right, even a moderate is far left.