The state Senate committee charged with reviewing Gov. Roy Cooper’s appointments to head Cabinet agencies provided a preview Monday of how the panel expects to question the nominees.
The preview, in the form of a questionnaire sent to the first candidate scheduled to go through the process, came as the standoff between the Democratic governor and the Republican leadership of the Senate intensified. Later Monday, Cooper asked a three-judge panel to temporarily stop the hearings from proceeding.
The first Cabinet secretary to go through the process is Larry Hall, a former state legislator from Durham who the governor has named as secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. He received a hand-delivered letter Monday from the Senate asking about his qualifications and potential conflicts.
The letter asks Hall to detail any political contributions he has made of more than $50, whether he has been sued or charged with a crime, and whether he has been the subject of an inquiry or investigation by a professional association or a party to any administrative proceeding.
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The letter says he isn’t required to provide written responses in advance, but that the questionnaire provides notice of what the committees might ask. Hall is scheduled to appear before a Senate commerce and insurance committee on Wednesday, followed by the Senate Nominations Committee at a later date, before a vote of the full Senate.
Cooper has sued to challenge the Republican-controlled Senate’s insistence on holding confirmation hearings for the 10 Cabinet leaders, and has asked that meetings be delayed until the dispute can be settled in court. But the Senate is going ahead with its plans to publicly vet the secretaries over the next two months.
Cooper said his attorneys and those representing GOP leaders in the General Assembly have proposed a court schedule that would allow for a hearing and a decision by the panel of judges hearing Cooper’s lawsuit by early March. Cooper said his secretaries have been meeting informally with legislators and will continue.
“The Governor and his staff spent months identifying and recruiting experienced, effective leaders with the subject-matter expertise to run a principal department in accordance with the Governor’s policy priorities and goals,” Cooper’s motion Monday says, adding that the law requiring Senate confirmation “would render that work meaningless, instead requiring the Governor to appoint principal department heads who will mollify the Senate.”
Senate Leader Phil Berger said in a statement his office released that the confirmation process, enacted into law after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory lost re-election, would be more transparent than previously, when Cabinet hires were solely the authority of the governor.
“For years, Cabinet secretaries have met behind closed doors to share their qualifications and address any concerns – like conflicts of interest – legislators may have,” Berger said. “It is extremely disturbing that Roy Cooper is demanding the state courts keep these meetings hidden behind closed doors and out of the public eye.”
Sen. Bill Rabon, a Southport Republican who is co-chairman of the nominations committee, last week said he didn’t anticipate any problems approving Cooper’s choices. But he said the Senate would evaluate each nominee on their ability to do the job, a lack of conflicts of interest and their willingness to follow the law.