RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper isn’t committing to have his Cabinet secretaries come before state Senate committees as part of their formal confirmation process, which stems from a new law the governor has sued over to stop.
Senate Republican leaders laid out this week how they will scrutinize department heads chosen by the new Democratic governor, with the first secretary expected before a committee meeting Wednesday. A Cooper spokesman on Tuesday urged senators to wait until after a court could rule on whether the chamber had the constitutional authority to approve the secretaries.
Speaking to reporters after a public appearance, Cooper repeated the request Wednesday but didn’t specifically say whether his Cabinet would comply with the senators’ request to appear.
“We’ll talk to them and see if we can arrange something,” Cooper said. “We want to try to avoid being confrontational about this, so we’re going to talk to them to see what’s next.”
In December, just before Cooper was sworn in, the previous edition of the General Assembly made his Cabinet picks subject to the “advice and consent” of a majority of senators, citing a provision in the state Constitution. Cooper said this provision doesn’t apply to his Cabinet and expanded a lawsuit in early January to ask the confirmation law be thrown out. Judges have not ruled in the case.
“The confirmation process is something North Carolina governors haven’t had to do and we believe that it is unconstitutional,” Cooper said after a speech at the Southern Farm Show.
Leaders of a Senate nominations panel have scheduled weekly meetings in separate policy committees through mid-March for eight of the 10 Cabinet secretaries Cooper already has chosen. The eight have been sworn in and are performing their duties.
Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, a nominations panel co-chairman, says the hearings aren’t designed to hurt the governor. Rabon said Tuesday that senators would focus on whether Cooper’s choices were capable of performing the job, lacked conflicts of interest and planned to follow the law.
The early standoff doesn’t mean Cooper’s Cabinet is staying away from the Legislative Building.
Larry Hall, until recently a House member and Cooper’s secretary of military and veterans’ affairs, was seen Wednesday outside the Senate chamber speaking with Rabon and Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, the other co-chairman of the Senate nominations committee. Also present was Brad Adcock, Cooper’s chief legislative lobbyist. Hall’s confirmation will be the first one discussed by senators.
Cooper said earlier Wednesday he wanted his department heads involved in legislative matters.
“I want my Cabinet secretaries to be working with legislators at every turn,” Cooper said.