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Bill would curb Cooper's appointment powers

Posted December 14, 2016 10:48 p.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2016 10:09 a.m. EST

— No bill slated to be considered during an unexpected special session this week has more political overtones than a measure designed to undercut Gov.-elect Roy Cooper's ability to appoint members of his administration and oversee other parts of government.

Among its provisions, House Bill 17:

  • reduces the number of exempt positions under Cooper's supervision from 1,500 to 300. 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 Gov. Pat McCrory 1,500 to work with.
  • puts the Department of Public Instruction more firmly under the supervision of the superintendent of public instruction, a position elected separately from the governor. Republican Mark Johnson ousted Democrat June Atkinson in this year's election.
  • gives Johnson at least 70 "exempt" positions, beefing up his power in the same way it would trim Cooper's. The bill would also gives the new superintendent more flexibility in managing the state's education budget.
  • removes gubernatorial appointments to the various 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 measure drew howls of protest from Democrats, who said that Republicans who run the House and the Senate are exacting retribution for Cooper's defeat of McCrory, who lost a bitterly fought campaign by just more than 10,000 votes.

"This is an unprecedented, shameful and cowardly power grab from Republicans," said Jamal Little, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. "After losing the Governor’s Office, the GOP-controlled General Assembly is attempting to hold on to the power that voters took away from them. Make no mistake, the legislation we are seeing today are attempts from Republicans to usurp power from Gov.-elect Roy Cooper after losing the election."

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, House Rules Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, said that the General Assembly was going to "reassert its authority in areas that have previously been delegated to the executive branch."

Cooper himself did not respond to the bill Wednesday but took to Twitter to suggest lawmakers "should focus on higher teacher pay, better wages for working North Carolinians and repealing HB 2."

Robin Hayes, the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, sent an email to reporters that referred back to moves by Gov. Jim Hunt to purge state government of Republican appointees in the late 1970s.

"After an extremely close series of elections that inflamed passions on both sides of the aisle, the Republican legislature has proposed something we can all agree on – removing the hyper-partisanship out of our elections administration in order to solve future election concerns in a bipartisan manner," Hayes wrote.