Veterans Affairs Secretary Hall a no-show at Senate confirmation hearings

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Senator John Alexander

RALEIGH — Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Larry Hall was a no-show again for the second scheduled confirmation hearings at the legislative building Wednesday. His absence drew criticism from the Republican-led legislature who rescheduled the meeting after Hall did not appear for the previous meeting. The confirmation hearings have been a point of contention between Governor Roy Cooper and the legislature after Cooper filed a lawsuit saying that the hearings infringed on his ability to fill his cabinet with leaders who would help him fulfill his policy goals. Two weeks ago a three-judge panel disagreed with Cooper, saying that he had not proven that he was irreparably harmed by the hearings. That was a reversal of their previous order that halted the Senate confirmation hearings. Judge Jesse B. Caldwell III of Gaston County, writing for the panel that includes Todd Burke of Forsyth County and Jeff Foster of Beaufort County said that Cooper has until May 15 to submit his nominees.According to a statement issued by Cooper’s office at the time of the decision, “the governor plans to wait for the full hearing on the constitutionality of this law to go forward on March 7th before submitting his nominees, which he believes will not be necessary.”After the Wednesday meeting, Sen. Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland), co-chair of the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee, made the following statement to committee members after Hall did not appear, laying out a timeline of events that he says indicates that Hall was expected to attend. “As you all know, last week a three-judge panel denied Gov. Cooper’s request to continue blocking Senate confirmation of his cabinet secretaries — as provided for in the state constitution. Yet, once again, his nominee is a no-show. We are very disappointed Gov. Cooper has ordered Secretary Larry Hall not to participate in this fair, open and transparent hearing process. Committee members, there has been a lot of discussion on whether Gov. Cooper’s secretaries have been formally nominated. Please take a look at the documents before you: On January 13, Gov. Cooper named Larry Hall as Secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. On January 16, Larry Hall resigned from the General Assembly, saying, “I am fortunate to have been appointed to be the State Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs by The Honorable Roy Cooper, 75th Governor of North Carolina.” He took an oath of office and has been serving in that capacity since ever since. A February 9 story in the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported that Secretary Hall will earn a taxpayer-funded annual salary of $130,935. Yesterday, he attended a meeting of the North Carolina Military Affairs Commission as its Secretary. And the Department’s website lists him as Secretary.”So it is hard to conceive how anyone could argue with a straight face that he is not yet nominated.”As we have said all along, the purpose of the confirmation hearings is to determine whether Gov. Cooper’s cabinet secretaries are capable, qualified, without conflicts of interest, and willing to follow the laws of our state and nation.”By disrespecting this process, Secretary Hall is openly defying a law that has been backed up by the courts and is plainly allowed in the constitution. “While, through his actions, Gov. Cooper has made clear he doesn’t always respect and follow the law, Secretary Hall took an oath of office and must uphold it. He has a fiduciary duty to the people of this state to obey the law — even if the governor directs him not to. “As of right now, Secretary Hall is failing one of the three basic tests we need to see to prove basic fitness for the role he is currently serving. That is one of the criteria we will consider when determining whether to move his nomination forward.”Secretary Hall is a former member of the General Assembly and longtime colleague. We have tried to afford him every courtesy because we believe he has a great deal of respect for this institution. So we will give him one more opportunity tomorrow to come back before this committee, follow the law and answer questions about his qualifications and background — just like President Trump’s cabinet nominees did before the U.S. Senate.”If he does not, he should bear in mind there are consequences when state officials refuse to follow the law.”This meeting is adjourned.”The committee has rescheduled another meeting for Thursday morning.