NC Senate moves forward with confirmation process

Senate nominations committee announces hearings schedule, process, while Cooper lawsuit works its way through court

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Senator Bill Rabon

RALEIGH — While no votes have been held in the General Assembly this week, the N.C. Senate did hold the session’s first committee meeting Tuesday to discuss the forthcoming process for Senate confirmation of Gov. Roy Cooper’s picks to head various state agencies.”What we’re doing here today, ladies and gentlemen, is what we expect to do in coming weeks, and specifically what the Senate process will look like for the upcoming nominations,” said committee co-chair Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Southport). “Our goal is to have a transparent and fair process so the governor’s nominees are thoroughly considered. We will focus primarily on determining if the specific candidate is capable and qualified, insuring that the candidate has no conflict of interest, and insuring that the candidate will follow the law.”Asserting their role in approving gubernatorial appointments to agency leadership roles during special session in late 2016 the General Assembly passed House Bill 17, which pointed to Article III, Section 5(8) of the N.C. Constitution as backing for requiring cabinet appointments receive senate confirmation.”The Governor shall nominate and by and with the advice and consent of a majority of the Senators appoint all officers whose appointments are not otherwise provided for,” reads the N.C. Constitution.H.B. 17 stipulates that the legislature can waive the requirement for specific appointees and acting secretaries can be appointed to vacancies “when the General Assembly is not in regular session.”However, recess appointments could not be indefinite under the new law. It allows them to serve until senators specifically disapprove the appointment, or until the legislature adjourns for a period exceeding 30 days without specifically approving the appointment.The Select Committee on Nominations unveiled its framework and schedule Tuesday for providing that advice and consent on the governor’s nominations.In January Cooper added the confirmation issue to a filed lawsuit, arguing that the relevant constitutional article did not apply to his choices for department secretaries, and he has urged lawmakers to wait until the case is ruled on before moving forward.”The confirmation process is something North Carolina governors haven’t had to do and we believe that it is unconstitutional,” Cooper said at an event Wednesday.Cooper demurred on whether or not he would urge his appointees to comply with requests to appear before the N.C. Senate for testimony.In a joint statement Tuesday, co-chairs of the nominations committee, Rabon and Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Union), downplayed Cooper’s concerns.”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.”Rabon explained to the committee Tuesday that each nomination is being referred to relevant standing committees that are “best suited to consider the candidate.”Those committees will invite the candidate to give testimony and answer questions from committee members. From there the committee will make a recommendation back to the nominations committee which will vote to pass the recommendation to the floor of the N.C. Senate for a confirmation vote.Rabon stated he had secured contact information for the appointees from Cooper’s office and the committee would be inviting them to sit down and review the process and answer any questions they may have.Moreover, Rabon informed the committee the candidates have not yet been made official, despite the public announcements from Cooper.”We assume them to be nominees,” said Rabon. “[The governor] has made those nominations, or suggestions publicly, but he has not made them formally to the president pro tem’s office or to us as of yet.”Co-chairman of the Senate Nominations Committee Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Union) announced the scheduled hearings and clarified that the listed candidates are currently in “acting positions or interim positions.”The process is expected to take approximately six weeks, commencing in the first week of February, and hearings have already been scheduled for eight of Cooper’s appointments. Cooper has yet to appoint leaders of the N.C. Department of Information Technology and N.C. Department of Revenue.