State Politics

NC House looks to take more appointment powers away from Gov. Roy Cooper

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, center, holds a press conference with N.C. House Democratic leader Darren Jackson, left, and N.C. Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue on Feb. 14, 2017.
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, center, holds a press conference with N.C. House Democratic leader Darren Jackson, left, and N.C. Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue on Feb. 14, 2017. cseward@newsobserver.com

N.C. House Republicans want to take away Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s power to fill local judicial vacancies and pick trustees at some community colleges.

Four bills sponsored by Republican Rep. Justin Burr of Albemarle are the latest attempts to limit the power of the governor.

The House approved a pair of bills Thursday that would give legislators the power to select some of the trustees on the boards of 16 of the state’s 58 community colleges. Currently, the governor appoints four board members while others are appointed by local county commissions or school boards.

If the bills become law, the House speaker and the Senate leader would each pick two board members with input from lawmakers who represent the areas served by the colleges.

“We know best who can serve our community and our community colleges,” Burr said. “We’re more capable of doing that than a staffer (for the governor) in Raleigh is.”

But Democrats objected to the measure. “This is another slap at the governor,” said Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat. “He’s had these (appointments) all these years, and nobody’s ever complained about it before.”

Burr says he only included colleges where the local legislators supported the change.

But House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson said he thinks Republicans wanted to keep the proposal as a local bill – which means the governor can’t veto it because he only gets a say in statewide legislation.

“It’s my opinion that we’re doing this to strip power from the governor,” he said. “We’re figuring out a way to keep the governor from having to sign it. You’re just trying to find a different way that will survive a legal challenge.”

Rep. Bert Jones, a Reidsville Republican, sought to add his local community college to the bill and cited different motives. “I believe the legislative body is closer to the people,” he said.

The bills were approved, mostly along partly lines, and will now go to the Senate.

Burr filed another pair of bills late Wednesday that would make a similar change in who appoints judges to fill vacancies in District Court and Special Superior Court seats.

While the judges are elected by voters, the governor currently picks replacements when a judge leaves office early. Burr, along with several Republican House co-sponsors, wants the legislature to have that power. Under his bills, lawmakers would file a bill naming a new judge, and both the House and Senate would vote on the nomination.

“I think the legislature certainly is within our authority to make that change,” Burr said Thursday. “I know who’s best in my community to serve on the bench, as do all the other members here at the General Assembly.”

Burr questioned whether Cooper could choose the best judge for his conservative district in Stanly and Montgomery counties. “The governor overwhelmingly lost in my community and yet he’s going to get to pick my District Court judges, which does not fall in line with what my community would want.”

The legislature passed several laws during a December special session that sharply curbed Cooper’s appointment powers, and some of those changes are the subject of lawsuits.

One change would prevent the governor from selecting the majority of state and county officials who oversee elections. Another cut his ability to appoint members to UNC schools’ boards of trustees.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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