The state House elected a Republican-picked slate of nominees to the UNC system's Board of Governors on Tuesday in a tense process marked by a protest vote by Democrats.
In the past week, the Republican leadership in the legislature has put its stamp on the board that sets policy for the 17-school University of North Carolina system. The 2011 class of the UNC board is largely white, male and Republican - angering black lawmakers and others about the new members' lack of racial diversity. Among the 16 newly elected members - who will make up half the board - there are 13 white men, two white women and one man of Indian descent.
The Senate elected eight members last week. On Tuesday, it was the House's turn. The House slate was supposed to have 16 nominees vying for eight seats, but at the last minute, seven people withdrew. That prompted House Democrats to cry foul about the process, which had previously been spelled out in rules adopted earlier this year.
Rep. Joe Hackney, a Chapel Hill Democrat, said there was no point in Democrats participating in the vote. So they didn't. Democrats turned in blank ballots, and later voted "no" on a roll call vote on the Republican-approved list.
"They pressured people to withdraw so they wouldn't be on the ballot and it just made the Board of Governors election a sham ... it just wasn't fair and we wanted to make that point," Hackney said.
But Rep. Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, who led a nominating committee, said the House leaders followed normal procedures.
Nominees who bowed out of the process did so on their own, he said.
"I don't think people were told it was in their best interest to withdraw, but there was consensus among the [Republican] caucus as to who the eight appointees should be," he said, "and in the interest of being candid with folks, we shared it."
Moore, himself a former UNC board member, pointed out that he lost re-election after one term when the legislature was controlled by Democrats.
"I didn't cry foul and say it wasn't fair," he said. "That's just the way it was."
Rep. Alma Adams, a Greensboro Democrat, said the makeup of the board is problematic. The 32-member board, which oversees five historically black campuses, will have only four black members.
"I'm concerned about where the real commitment is to some of the issues that will come up regarding these schools," Adams said.
There was no attempt by Republicans to be inclusive, she said. Adams pointed out that, through the years, Democrats who controlled the legislature made sure Republicans were represented on the board.
Brent Barringer, a Cary lawyer who was re-elected to a third term Tuesday, said the now-Republican heavy board would not be radically different. "We're not very political once we get there," he said.
The board will be more politically balanced now, he said, though politics won't be the focus.
"The partisan label you wear is not all that important," Barringer said. "In my eight years, it's been almost inconsequential."
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