The standoff between Gov. Roy Cooper and state senators over who has the authority to approve the governor’s Cabinet appointments escalated to threats and angry retorts on Wednesday.
For the second time, Larry Hall, selected to run the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, failed to attend a Senate hearing on his confirmation. Republican senators said they would vote against his nomination if he fails to show at a third hearing Thursday.
Cooper has sued to challenge the Senate’s authority to approve his nominations. The Republican-controlled legislature put the confirmation process in place after the Democrat’s election as governor last November. Cooper says Wednesday’s nomination hearing violates a court ruling last week that found the nomination process can’t begin until the governor has submitted his nominations and that he has until May 15 to do so.
The three-judge panel also denied Cooper’s motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the confirmation hearings until the matter can be decided in court on March 7. Republican Senate leaders took that part of the ruling to justify going ahead with the confirmation hearings. They note that Cooper has already announced, sworn in and begun paying eight Cabinet selections, and argue it is disingenuous to say the nomination process is not already underway.
Sen. Wesley Meredith, a Republican from Fayetteville who chaired the committee meeting, said Hall should attend even if Cooper tells him not to. Failure to do so would provide a legal reason not to confirm him, Meredith said, because it would indicate Hall was not willing to follow the law.
“We are very disappointed,” Meredith said, announcing that the committee would give Hall a third chance out of courtesy because he is a former colleague in the state legislature. “... There are consequences when a state official refuses to follow the law,” he said.
Meredith then gaveled the five-minute meeting to a close, ignoring efforts by Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, to speak. Afterward, McKissick was livid, telling reporters it was a “sham hearing” that had been prohibited by a court order.
“This should never have been held,” he said. “They’re wasting time on things that are absolutely just political charades.”
McKissick said he hopes the court takes into account Meredith’s threat.
“Those types of threats are absolutely inappropriate,” he said. “That’s exactly why we shouldn’t have to go through this process at all. Threats have been made against the court and now threats are being made against people who the governor is appointing. That is wrong, it’s improper, and you just can’t intimidate people based upon the fact that you’re in the majority.”
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine, told reporters that Hall and the governor were ignoring the law and role of the General Assembly.
“It’s ridiculous that he’s chosen not to come,” Hise said. “I will tell you, myself, I am prepared if this continues I will move that he not be confirmed as secretary if he cannot respect this General Assembly, respect this Senate and the authority given it by the Constitution.”
Hise said the legislature has the authority to approve a governor’s Cabinet nominations regardless of the May 15 deadline determined by the court. Asked if the committee would consider issuing a subpoena to Hall, Hise said he would be willing to do that.