Forest: 'Nothing politically expedient' in suing Cooper over pandemic actions

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said Monday that he didn't want to sue Gov. Roy Cooper over the governor's actions during the coronavirus pandemic, but he said he had run out of options.

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Matthew Burns
, WRAL.com senior producer/politics editor, & Laura Leslie, WRAL Capitol Bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said Monday that he didn't want to sue Gov. Roy Cooper over the governor's actions during the coronavirus pandemic, but he said he had run out of options.
Forest filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court on Wednesday alleging that Cooper violated the state Emergency Management Act with a series of executive orders that have shut down large swaths of North Carolina economy in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus. The lieutenant governor said state law requires Cooper to get support from the majority of the Council of State before issuing such orders.

The Council of State is a group of 10 statewide elected officials that includes Cooper, Forest, Attorney General Josh Stein, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and State Auditor Beth Wood.

"This lawsuit is not interested in the substance of Governor Cooper’s orders," Forest said at a news conference. "It specifically addresses his lack of authority under the Emergency Management Act to shut down North Carolina without the concurrence of the Council of State."

Cooper has said previously that state law gives him the power to act during an emergency without consulting the Council of State.

Forest dismissed Cooper's claims when asked, but he said the lawsuit doesn't address that and, instead, focuses specifically on what is required under the Emergency Management Act.

"This is about the overreach of executive power and the rule of law," he said. "One person, in the position of governor or secretary of health, is not allowed, under the law, to shut down wide swaths of the economy indefinitely."

Judges in three different jurisdictions have recently upheld the governor’s authority to shut down businesses, including bars and an Alamance County race track.

Governors in other states, including Florida and Texas, have recently shut down bars and closed beaches because coronavirus infections spiked after those states pushed to reopen their economies quickly.

Forest noted that some of those actions were taken by mayors and local communities, and he said North Carolina also should address the pandemic with more regional and local actions instead of Cooper's statewide orders.

"It's time to move beyond the overall one-size-fits-all, statewide emergency plan and move into very specific plans for where there is a problem," he said.

"As states like Florida and Texas backtrack after rushing reopening and surging new cases, Gov. Cooper will continue to be guided by science and the law as he works every day with public health experts to keep North Carolinians safe," Cooper spokeswoman Dory MacMillan said in a statement. "Partisan politics must be put aside when responding to COVID-19."

Forest is running against Cooper in the November gubernatorial election, but he said the lawsuit isn't politically motivated.

"There's nothing politically expedient about suing the governor," he said. "This is the last thing we wanted to do."

Several other Republicans on the Council of State also have criticized Cooper's actions, but Forest said none of them have been able to get enough information from the governor or the state Department of Health and Human Services where they could support the executive orders.

"If you want to base your decisions on science and data, I believe you should make that science transparent," Forest said.

The lieutenant governor said he also waited to file the lawsuit until the General Assembly adjourned, hoping lawmakers would override some of Cooper's vetoes to allow places like bars and gyms to reopen. They failed in their initial effort last week, and several other reopening bills that still sit on Cooper's desk also are likely to be vetoed this week.


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