The legislature and Gov. Roy Cooper are in a tug-of-war over who has the authority to sign off on the new governor’s Cabinet appointments. But a key Republican senator said Tuesday he doesn’t expect ideological or political differences to derail any of Cooper’s choices.
“I expect the governor to appoint people who share his ideology,” Sen. Bill Rabon, a Republican from Southport who is co-chairman of a new Senate nominations committee, told reporters after the committee’s first meeting on Tuesday.
He added that those nominated should also represent the legislature and the people of North Carolina. Rabon said the committee was committed to a fair and transparent process. Rabon said he hoped the process would take no longer than six weeks.
The Cabinet nominees will be judged solely on three criteria, he said: that they are capable and qualified, that they have no conflicts of interest, and that they are committed to following the law.
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“I should hope all of these would be confirmed,” he said during the meeting of the Senate Select Committee on Nominations.
The tone of cooperation with the Democratic governor downplays a legal confrontation between Cooper and the Republicans who control the General Assembly.
Senate confirmation was put into law in a special session at the end of last year after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory lost his re-election bid to Cooper. Cooper has sued to block that requirement, along with several other provisions McCrory and the General Assembly enacted.
The state Constitution conditions a governor’s appointments on the “advice and consent” of a majority of the Senate, although that has not been the practice. Cooper contends that doesn’t include Cabinet appointments.
“The governor encourages his Cabinet secretaries to meet informally with legislators and to work with them at every turn,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in a statement issued after the meeting. “However, we believe that the confirmation law is clearly unconstitutional and we urge the legislature to let the court decide the case first.”
Unless a judge rules otherwise, the Senate is proceeding with the confirmation process.
Rabon said he and co-chairman Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Republican from Union County, would be contacting the nominees to inform them of what’s ahead and answer questions they might have.
“As long as Gov. Cooper’s cabinet nominees have nothing to hide and are free of conflicts of interest, willing to follow the law and qualified, he should advise them they have nothing to worry about and encourage them to comply with the law,” said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Rabon and Tucker.
Rabon said a three-step process will begin with nominees’ appearances before the committee best suited to their appointment. Those committees will make recommendations to the nominations committee, which will send its recommendations to the full Senate.
Scheduled to begin the process are:
▪ Former Rep. Larry Hall, named to lead the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, at a meeting of the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Feb. 8.
▪ Machelle Sanders, Department of Administration, to the State and Local Government Committee on Feb. 14.
▪ Susi Hamilton, Natural and Cultural Resources, to the Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 16.
▪ Erik Hooks, Public Safety, to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 21.
▪ Tony Copeland, Commerce, to the Commerce and Insurance Committee on Feb . 23.
▪ Jim Trogdon, Transportation, to the Transportation Committee on March 1.
▪ Michael Regan, Environmental Quality, to the Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on March 8.
▪ Dr. Mandy Cohen, Health and Human Services, to the Health Care Committee on March 16.
The two most potentially controversial selections were saved for last.
Regan is a former official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Cohen was a top official in the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid. Many conservatives see in both agencies examples of federal overreach. Cooper is in a legal fight with the legislature over his attempt to expand Medicaid coverage, which Republican lawmakers oppose and contend would be illegal.
On Monday, Senate leader Phil Berger announced he he had named 15 senators to the new committee, comprising it of 10 Republicans and five Democrats.
Besides Rabon and Tucker, other Republicans on the committee include Sens. Harry Brown of Jacksonville, Kathy Harrington of Gastonia, Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine, Brent Jackson of Autryville, Michael Lee of Wilmington, Wesley Meredith of Fayetteville, Trudy Wade of Greensboro and Andy Wells of Hickory.
Democrats on the panel include Sens. Dan Blue of Raleigh, Joel Ford of Charlotte, Floyd McKissick of Durham, Gladys Robinson of Greensboro and Terry Van Duyn of Asheville.