Clean slate?

February 8, 2013 

Only a nuclear bomb would have been slightly more subtle. And one of Senate Bill 10’s sponsors, Sen. Bill Rabon, a Southport Republican, was at least pretty candid about the point of it all. He said a dramatic change in the way boards and commissions, some of them with important oversight and regulatory duties, are appointed and ending the terms of current members would mean appointees “more like-minded and willing to carry out the philosophy of the new administration.”

Not that it needs much interpretation, but simply put, this bill would help Republicans now in power in the General Assembly sweep out Democrats on boards such as the Utilities Commission, the Industrial Commission, the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Board of Education and the N.C. Turnpike Authority. Actually, the Turnpike Authority would simply be eliminated and its duties taken over by the state Department of Transportation, where Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s secretary, Tony Tata, is in charge.

Terms on many such groups are staggered, meaning openings come up at different times, but in most cases, the terms of current members would simply end, which means McCrory and legislative leaders (where they have appointive power) would replace everybody.

Wow. The problem with that, of course, is that the boards and commissions where that happened would lose all continuity and institutional knowledge of current members. Starting from scratch would be a daunting task, for example, when it comes to considering rate hike requests from power companies (Utilities Commission) or workers’ compensation issues (Industrial Commission).

And Rabon’s statement about having “like-minded” appointees willing to do the bidding of a “new administration” is disturbing because the purpose of these boards and commissions isn’t to follow the political ideology of a particular governor. It’s to do important regulatory and oversight work. A utility rate issue isn’t partisan, for example. It’s about maintaining the viability of a power company while preventing price gouging when it comes to rate increases.

As with other issues that come before other commissions, that’s not partisan. Or shouldn’t be.

Are politics involved in such appointments? Of course they are. It’s not unusual for commissioners or board members to be contributors to governors or old friends or both. But wiping out current members and ending their terms before completion would be carrying the politics of it all a step too far, way too far, and it would set up the likelihood that when Democrats re-take power in the governor’s office and in the General Assembly, they’ll do exactly the same thing.

That’s not going to be a healthy custom for North Carolina to adopt.

In the course of his term, Gov. McCrory will have a chance to appoint many of his political allies and others with conservative philosophies to match his own. Those trying to fast-track his appointments by running incumbents off the track are engaging in political gamesmanship that could come with long-term costs. Like many narrowly focused, GOP-backed bills this session, this one doubtless has a nice chance of passage. But haste such as this makes for shortsighted policy.

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