Under the Dome

2 former NC governors criticize GOP efforts to strip executive power

Former North Carolina governors Jim Martin and Jim Hunt on Thursday criticized Republican lawmakers for trying to dilute the power of incoming Gov. Roy Cooper.

Martin, a Republican, said some GOP legislative proposals go “too far.”

The Republican-controlled General Assembly, meeting in special session, is expected to vote this week on measures that would make sweeping changes to the governor’s authority and affect state courts and boards that oversee elections.

The two former governors specifically targeted measures aimed at the incoming governor.

House Bill 17 would prevent Cooper from appointing any members to the boards of trustees for schools in the University of North Carolina system.

It also would dramatically reduce the number of Cooper’s administration appointments from 1,500 to 300, a decrease of 80 percent. The House passed the bill Thursday.

I think they’d be going too far in taking away appointments to … the UNC system.

Former Gov. Jim Martin

“I think they’d be going too far in taking away appointments to … the UNC system,” Martin told the Observer.

“I am very, very concerned,” said Hunt, a Democrat who served four terms in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. “I’m afraid if allowed to stand, it will result in education being much less effective in North Carolina, hurting the people and economy of our state.”

Two years ago Martin and Hunt joined Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in a lawsuit against the General Assembly over appointment powers. In a 6-1 ruling last January, the state Supreme Court sided with the governor.

I am very, very concerned....I’m afraid if allowed to stand, it will result in education being much less effective in North Carolina hurting the people and economy of our state.

Former Gov. Jim Hunt

In their argument to the Supreme Court, McCrory’s lawyers, led by Charlotte attorney John Wester, invoked the Founding Fathers in calling the separation of powers the cornerstone of the American system of government.

In its ruling, the high court referred seven times to the governor’s constitutional duty “faithfully to execute the laws” of the state, Wester said Thursday. He said any new laws limiting the governor’s authority would be judged against the court’s standard in the separation-of-powers case.

“In articulating that standard seven times in the chief justice’s opinion,” Wester said, “ we see a clear focus on the governor’s duty and the court’s resolve in protecting it.”

Hunt said the current GOP proposals are “even worse in terms of violating the constitution and trying to take executive powers away from the governor.”

A spokeswoman for Senate GOP leader Phil Berger said proposals do not violate the constitution, pointing to a section that says senators have the right to give “advice and consent” on many appointments.

Martin said he has no problem with most of the other Republican proposals, such as identifying the party of Supreme Court candidates. “Sounds like politics to me,” he said.

When Martin was elected in 1984, Democratic lawmakers also sought to stymie his appointments. One House member even tried to call for a referendum on a constitutional amendment to repeal the governor’s ability to seek a second term.

When Martin did win a second term in 1988, Jim Gardner was elected the first Republican lieutenant governor since the turn of the 20th century. Democratic senators promptly stripped many of the lieutenant governor’s powers.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill