EDITORIAL: Sometimes its okay to get along

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
State Senators Wesley Meredith

Recently Gov. Roy Cooper suggested the state raise teacher salaries, making it sound like a revolutionary idea he just thought up on a whim. Senate leader Phil Berger’s response was a snarky jab at Cooper’s opposition to recent state budgets that boosted pay for educators.Guys, sometimes it’s okay to simply agree. Especially right after an election, for goodness’ sake.Then last week there was another empty-chair committee hearing on Jones Street, when Larry Hall, Cooper’s choice to lead the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, failed to show. As a result, Berger issued subpoenas to Cooper’s cabinet nominees to compel their attendance at confirmation hearings.Certainly no one expects Berger, one of two Republican heads of the legislative branch, to get along all the time with Cooper, the Democratic governor. But is it productive to fight about every little thing?Cooper’s no-shows and Berger’s subpoenas may be intended as mere political theater, flexing the checks and balances that are vital bulwarks to tyranny. But since they are already suing each other over Senate confirmations of Cooper’s cabinet, would it kill the two men to get along in the meantime?Cooper should lift his gag order on his cabinet nominees and have them appear to answer questions from senators. Berger should withdraw the subpoenas and offer to withhold floor votes on nominees until the case is decided.Overall, Berger has the better of the argument on substance. Cooper lost the latest round in court, where the three-judge panel brushed aside the governor’s weak argument that his nominees would be “irreparably harmed” by merely having to appear before senators. Initiating this fight-within-a-fight will almost certainly put the two back in court, which just gives more power to the judiciary, the least democratic of the three branches of government.Although he lost the latest round in court, Cooper is employing a loophole in state law that puts a May 15 date on gubernatorial submission of any nominees where a date is not otherwise specified in law. The court opinion notes that Cooper’s appointees “can serve as acting officers pending the selection and qualification process.” So to be in line with the letter of the law, Cooper would have the Senate believe that his nominees are all acting secretaries until he suddenly decides that they are his actual nominees.Meanwhile, as the Senate has pointed out, Cooper’s cabinet is clearly listed as his cabinet on official websites and letterhead — not acting. This charade goes against the spirit of the law and, like Berger’s subpoenas, is unhelpful. Government by gotcha is no way to run a state.Both men are trying to game the court case. Cooper is playing for time and toying with the legislature for failing to include a date certain in the law when they passed it in December. Berger wants to make the hearings a fait accompli.The central issue of confirmations is an important question, and one that will be decided in time. The court order itself could have been clear on what should happen in the meantime, either compelling Cooper’s nominees to appear or compelling the Senate to hold off.But perhaps the judges were vague because they thought they were dealing with men who would work it out on their own until the case is over. After all, don’t they have more important things to fight about?
Drew Elliot and Ray Nothstine are members of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.