The following editorial appeared Wednesday in the The Fayetteville Observer.
We could call it the Year of the Veto. But it’s probably more accurate to use the longer form: the year when good government was sacrificed on the altar of power politics.
Even though Roy Cooper is still a couple of months short of his first full year in office, it’s clear what’s going on. The leadership of the General Assembly has decided that Job No. 1 is slapping the governor down at every opportunity, even when he wants to do something that will protect the health and safety of North Carolina’s residents – Democrat, Republican, Libertarian and independent alike.
The best example is right in our backyard, flowing in the Cape Fear River. It’s been clear for months that we have a problem with the chemicals that the Chemours (formerly DuPont) plant here has been dumping into the river for as long as 30 years now. The chemical compounds haven’t been fully tested to determine their effect on human health. But while they aren’t on the list of products that are proven harmful to people, we know they do cause cancer in warm-blooded lab animals, and most of us would agree that we don’t want to be drinking them, in any concentration.
But when Cooper asked the General Assembly for $2.6 million to hire more professional staff to monitor dumping into our rivers and streams and to oversee the permitting process, legislative leaders ignored him. They chose instead to give less than a fifth of that to Wilmington-area university researchers and to the city’s water utility. Not an extra penny to the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services, the two state offices whose job it is to monitor our state’s water for safety and for violations of pollution regulations.
Why would they do that? Because that’s what Cooper wants, and the political orthodoxy of legislative leadership is to kick the governor, no matter how urgent his request. So when Cooper vetoed the weak and inadequate legislative response to Cape Fear pollution, lawmakers swiftly returned to Raleigh for an override vote.
They made the trip again this week because Cooper vetoed a measure that would cancel next year’s primary election for local and Court of Appeals judges. This will result in overcrowded November ballots that will confuse voters and allow lawmakers to strengthen the Republican grip on the court system. They also are intent on gerrymandering the state’s court seats to achieve the same goal. If this were only about realigning the districts to match population trends, lawmakers could have allowed a nonpartisan, professional panel to draw the new lines. (For the record, we don’t want to see either party dominate the judiciary. The courtroom is no place for partisanship. One of our state’s and country’s core principles is unbiased administration of justice, and a partisan gerrymander of judicial districts is not the way to achieve it.)
Yet despite all their extra trips to Raleigh for veto overrides, the General Assembly’s leaders have chosen to ignore some of Cooper’s key appointments that require legislative approval. That includes positions on the N.C. Utilities Commission, the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees and the State Board of Education. In an angry letter to Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore Monday, Cooper said it was “an obvious effort by the General Assembly to undermine my administration’s ability to ensure faithful execution of the laws.” It was, in other words, just another plank in the Make Cooper Fail platform.
We understand the nature of political struggles and the way they are conducted in Raleigh. But we don’t understand why Berger, Moore and their lieutenants are so willing to harm the state’s residents so they can score political points. And don’t tell us the Democrats did it too. You’re right, they did. But the Republicans are in charge now and they’re responsible for the messes we’re in. They took office with a pledge to run a better government than the Democrats did. And they’re failing.