Two Senate committees unanimously recommended approving Larry Hall as head of the state’s military affairs department on Thursday, a mostly collegial resolution to weeks of contentious legal standoff that resulted in lawmakers forcing Hall to testify.
The recommendation will go before the full Senate for a vote on Monday night.
Republican senators praised Hall’s responses to their questions and said the rest of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Cabinet appointees should take note of how he performed. Hall is the first of the Democratic governor’s Cabinet hires to go through the confirmation process – which the legislature created after Cooper defeated Gov. Pat McCrory and which Cooper contends is unconstitutional.
Hall, a former Democratic leader in the state House, had been subpoenaed to come before the committee after failing to appear three previous times. Cooper contends the Senate doesn’t have the authority to confirm or reject his appointments, and a lawsuit over that issue is pending in court.
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Cooper had asked a judge to modify the subpoena to delay Hall’s appearance until the lawsuit can be resolved, possibly at a hearing next week. The judge did not rule on the motion, however, so Hall complied.
The governor’s office issued a statement Wednesday night saying Cooper still thinks the process is unconstitutional, and he reserves the right to challenge any votes taken on his Cabinet appointments.
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine, last week angrily threatened to vote against Hall because he had declined to attend three meetings, prompting the subpoena commanding his appearance.
“Obviously, I’ve been frustrated with the executive branch’s approach,” Hise said Thursday. “When Secretary Hall finally complied and came in I thought we had a really good hearing. ... I’ll join in supporting him. I won’t have that level of tolerance if this continues.”
The first meeting lasted about 90 minutes and the second one less than five. The tone of the questions was mostly deferential, as nearly all the senators thanked Hall for his military service. A handful of questioners grilled him about whether he would follow the law or the governor if they conflicted, and whether he had conflicts of interest.
The front two rows of the first committee meeting were filled with military veterans, wearing their service’s hats or jackets, whom Hall had invited. Hall wore a Marine Corps veteran red blazer.
Hall told committee members he grew up in a military family, and said he remembers watching his Army father parachute from planes. He touched on the controversy surrounding the appointments process by saying people will only have confidence in democracy if the courts, the legislature and citizens serve their roles.
“It is my great honor and I thank you for this consideration,” Hall said.