Politics & Government

NC Republican lawmakers reject 4 of Gov. Roy Cooper's nominees

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper cseward@newsobserver.com

The legislature rejected four of Gov. Roy Cooper's nominees, including two appointments to the State Board of Education, in votes Thursday largely along party lines.

In one case, legislative leaders declined to cite specific reasons why Cooper's pick was unfit for the position. The House and Senate met in joint session Thursday afternoon to vote on confirming three State Board of Education nominees that Cooper had submitted in April 2017: Reggie Keenan, Sandra Byrd and J.B. Buxton.

Keenan was confirmed but Byrd and Buxton were voted down.

The moves came shortly after legislators voted in support of a constitutional amendment that — if approved by voters in November — would add language to the constitution stating that the legislature controls the appointments and duties of any board or commission it creates. That could take Board of Education and other appointment power away from the governor.

Senate leader Phil Berger said legislators were concerned that Cooper hadn't consulted them prior to submitting the nominations.

"The law doesn't require him to do that, but I think it would be helpful," Berger told reporters.

House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, said Cooper was informed that the legislators opposed several of his picks but "instead of having those removed, he chose to have them voted down in public and handle it that way."

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, said Byrd — a retired associate professor of education from UNC-Asheville — had been involved in lawsuits challenging the legislature's efforts to shift power from the Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor, to the elected superintendent of public instruction, Republican Mark Johnson.

"These expensive losses should not have happened, and the hostility to the superintendent is wrong," Barefoot said. "I'm afraid with Ms. Byrd's nomination, we cannot help but expect more of the same."

But Republicans were tight-lipped about why they opposed Buxton, an education consultant who helped launch a Southeast Raleigh charter school. He'd previously worked as deputy state superintendent and as an education adviser to Gov. Mike Easley.

Bell, who called for Buxton's defeat, didn't explain his reasons on the House floor and later told reporters "it was a number of examples," declining to elaborate.

"Just people felt they were better off without him on the school board," he said.

Berger also declined to cite specifics. "There were a number of folks on the House side that had expressed concerns, and I think our members were willing to defer to them on that," he said.

Democrats cried foul. "We have been offered no explanation as to why it would be inappropriate to nominate J.B. Buxton to the board of education," said Rep. Graig Meyer, R-Orange. "I fear that we have no reason to give for this nomination to be voted down than purely partisan politics."

Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, on Thursday evening criticized Republicans' actions.

"This legislature has consistently sought to roll back separation of powers and shut the public out of our democracy," Porter said. "Today we got yet another taste of the anti-worker, anti-education system they hope to put in place by rewriting our constitution to rig the system in their favor."

Also Thursday, the House voted down Cooper's nomination of Bryan Beatty for a special Superior Court judge seat. Beatty was the secretary of the crime control and public safety under Easley and later served on the Utilities Commission.

And the House voted to reject Cooper's nomination of Robert Harris to serve on the Industrial Commission.

House Republicans said Harris was the wrong candidate for a commission seat representing employers because he was opposed by business groups, which pointed to his record of siding with workers in workers compensation cases.

"It needs to be a true employer representative, and it needs to be supported by the employer community," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake.

Dollar also said he was troubled by Cooper's decision not to reappoint Commissioner Tammy Nance to the seat, noting that she was previously appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue and Gov. Pat McCrory.

"I find that very unfortunate and very troubling as no reason for this has ever been given in the last several months," Dollar said.

The House did vote Thursday to confirm three other nominations from the governor without controversy: Myra Griffin for Industrial Commissioner, J. Stanley Carmical for special Superior Court judge and Athena Brooks for special Superior Court judge.