BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
During State Attorney General Roy Cooper ‘s successful run for Governor, he vowed to govern in the interests of “all North Carolinians” and promised that he would lead a diverse cabinet and administration. Democrat Cooper said that he was “…mindful that there are so many communities out there who feel targeted, and they yearn to be heard, and they yearn for respect.” He added that North Carolina needs a Governor who will work to “make sure that we have that mutual respect, and part of mutual respect is transparency.”
“…[W]e should be about being inclusive.” Cooper said last January. “The first thing we have to admit is that racism does exist.”
Based on his posture as a moderate Democrat, Cooper attracted a lion’s share of the Black vote in November, enough to help him unseat McCrory by just over 10,000 votes, to become North Carolina’s 75th governor on January 7, 2017.
However, now, thanks to measures passed last week by the Republican-led General Assembly in an extra special session, and signed this week by McCrory before he leaves office, observers say Cooper’s ability to indeed govern in the interest of all North Carolinians and make sure communities of color across the State are heard, respected, and reflected in his administration, has been severely compromised with the removal of many of his key appointment powers.
“The changes are intended to more consistently reflect the checks and balances called for in the [State] Constitution,” Senate President Pro-tem, Senator Phil Berger [R-Rockingham] told reporters last week.
“This is the result of voters’ picking a strong Republican legislature and a Democrat Governor by a fingernail,” Dallas Woodhouse, Executive Director, NC Republican Party added.
Democrats were both angered and aghast.
“At the height of the Tea Party era, North Carolina lies supine, crushed under the heel of a shameless tyranny of radical Republicanism that stripped the Governor of constitutional authority by a blatant political power grab,” said an outraged Michael Carmichael, Former Special Deputy Attorney General for Administrative Affairs under State Attorney General Rufus Edminsten during Governor Jim Hunt’s 1970’s term.
Governor-elect Cooper was clear that what the GOP did was far beyond just petty politics. “Most people might think this is a partisan power grab, but it’s really more ominous,” Cooper said, promising to fight in court.
Why is any governor’s ability to hire and appoint what is essentially his Executive Branch team, so vital for governance? According to Tom Hendrickson, Former Chairman of the N. C. Democratic Party who has extensive experience in State government, “The Governor needs the historical appointment powers to boards and commissions, as well as cabinet level and exempt positions, in order to execute his vision for North Carolina, which was embraced by the people of North Carolina at the ballot box.”
Hendrickson continued, “The legislative power grab is insider politics, which focuses on raw power and vendettas, rather than delivering on promises to our citizens, focusing on the future of our State.”
That means any intention of Governor Cooper’s to deliver a more inclusive State government to the people who voted him into office, is now checkmated at every turn by a Republican-led legislature that, at the very least, has demonstrated, according to the federal courts, a documented hostility towards African-Americans, especially when it comes to suppressing voting rights, the racial gerrymandering of voting districts, the denial of Medicaid expansion to the poor, and the slashing of the public education budget.
Courtney Crowder, who served as Legislative Director and Senior Advisor to Governor Beverly Perdue, North Carolina’s last Democrat Governor in office, said putting the brakes on Cooper’s vision of an inclusive, fairer State is exactly the reason the GOP moved so quickly and decisively to gut his power even before he took office.
“There is no doubt that what the legislature intended to do was to frustrate Cooper’s ability to install diverse and representative perspectives in as many positions key throughout State government as possible,” Crowder, who currently heads up his own governmental consulting firm, said.
For instance, the governor’s Cabinet – non-elected State officials Cooper would hire to lead key State agencies, such as the massive Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Public Safety. Under House Bill 17, Governor Cooper can select anyone he chooses, but now the State Senate must provide “advice and consent” on those choices. If the State Senate doesn’t like Cooper’s picks, they go nowhere.
True, that legislative prerogative was already in the State Constitution, but, throughout history, has been rarely enforced until now.
Cooper’s ability to fill exempt protected positions in State government was cut from the present 1500 for McCrory to just 425 (Perdue had 500), meaning Governor Cooper’s ability to specifically hire over 1,000 more fellow Democrats if he so chose, was decimated by over two-thirds.
The State Board of Elections will now be evenly split between four Republicans and four Democrats, with Republicans chairing on even numbered years when most major elections take place. All decisions will require a six-member majority. That’s a big change from now, when the party of the Governor in power has the majority of members on both the State BOE and the local county BOE’s.
Furthermore Cooper won’t be able to make appointments to the trustee boards of UNC System schools. The GOP-led legislature already controls appointments to the UNC Board of Governors and will control the trustee picks as well.
“…[You] will see the General Assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the Executive Branch,” declared Representative David Lewis (R-Cumberland) to reporters last week.
Former Advisor Courtney Crowder had to deal with a recalcitrant GOP legislature during Governor Beverly Perdue’s last two years in office. He says that, while it’s true the next Democrat Governor has been wounded, Cooper can still work with what he has left in addition to using his statewide bully pulpit to push his vision for more employment, a better economy, more investments in public education and a fairer North Carolina. Moreover, with the 2017 special elections coming up, Governor-elect Cooper could excite voters, and especially African-Americans, to make a change in the legislature.
“This is a fight he’s going to have to take on to achieve those goals that people are expecting of him, ” said Crowder.