RALEIGH — There will be some changes to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s staff and new legislative faces at the North Carolina General Assembly when it returns on Jan. 13 for the start of the 2021-2022 legislative biennium.
As he enters his second term, Cooper will need replacements for several top cabinet roles, including Department of Environmental Equality (DEQ) Secretary Michael Regan, who has been tapped by the Biden Administration to become the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“I am proud that President-elect Biden has recognized the talent we have here to select Michael Regan, North Carolina born and educated, to be EPA Administrator,” said Cooper in a press release. “Michael has served as DEQ secretary with distinction, helping advance my climate change executive order and promoting creative solutions to some of our toughest challenges. He has important work ahead of him helping battle climate change on a national level.”
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the next EPA administrator, Regan would be the first African- American man to hold the post.
Cooper named Regan as DEQ secretary early in 2017, and Regan has touted holding Chemours accountable on toxic PFAS pollution, regulation of the state’s large hog farms and the release of a plan to cut fossil fuel pollution from power plants by 70% within 10 years.
Alternately, Regan’s faced criticism from various climate groups and activists for his supportive role in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Controversy surrounded the $58 million mitigation fund that was announced the same day the Regan’s department approved the associated Water Quality Permit. The $58 million mitigation fund was labeled by some as a “slush fund.”
In early December of 2020, Cooper announced the departure of multiple cabinet members. Secretary of Commerce Tony Copeland, secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs Larry Hall and secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources Susi Hamilton all announced that they would be leaving their roles.
Cooper said in a statement that North Carolina “owes them a debt of gratitude” for their commitment to public service.”
Copeland, who was appointed in January of 2017, intends to step down at the end of January 2021.
“My tenure as Secretary of Commerce during the last four years has been the greatest honor of my career, and I am grateful to the Governor for the opportunity to lead and serve the people of North Carolina,” Copeland said in a statement.
Former legislator Larry Hall said, “The teamwork and dedication of the DMVA employees and staff has truly made this state the most military and veteran friendly state in the United States.”
According to the statement from the governor’s office, under Hall’s tenure, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (NCMVA) completed expansions of two of the four state veterans’ cemeteries, secured federal funding for a fifth state veterans nursing home in Forsyth County and a sixth facility in Wake County that will break ground in 2022. Additionally, NCVMA assisted North Carolina veterans in securing approximately $4 billion in VA compensation and benefits.
Hamilton, also a former legislator, did not specify what her next move is, but her statement hints at further public service engagement.
“At this time in my career, I feel called to specifically refocus my energy and my efforts to help expand opportunity in eastern North Carolina and make the region stronger and more resilient,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton helped develop and launch Cooper’s much touted “Hometown Strong” program created in early 2018 to “champion rural communities.” The program shifted its focus during the pandemic, aiding in distribution of internet hotspots for digital learning through N.C. Student Connect.
In addition to replacing cabinet members, the governor has initiated a search for a permanent replacement for the Department of Information Technology, which has been led by Acting Secretary Thomas Parrish since early August of 2020.
Parrish was appointed after his predecessor, Tracy Doaks, announced his departure at the end of July to head up MCNC, a non-profit which works on the expansion of broadband in rural areas.
Senate Leadership Positions
Senate leadership roles were announced at the end of November, with Phil Berger (R-Eden) remaining Senate President Pro Tempore and Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) keeping the Deputy President Pro Tempore spot. The Senate has elected Sen. Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston) as the first female majority leader since the role was created in 1977.
“It’s such an honor to have earned the faith and trust of my colleagues for this leadership position,” said Harrington. “North Carolina has been well-served by the past decade of low taxes, responsible spending, and investments in education, and I’m excited to work with my colleagues to continue that agenda.”
The Senate majority leader position was previously held for 11 years by Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow). Brown announced in 2019 he would not be seeking another term, ending a 16-year career at the legislature.
There will be two Senate whips, Sen. Tom McInnis (R-Richmond) and Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenoir). The role was previously held during the 2019-2020 session by Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance).
Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake) was unanimously elected to a fourth term as Senate Democratic leader. First elected to the General Assembly in 1981, Blue is the longest-serving member, having served over 13 terms in the House and over five in the Senate. Additionally, Blue was the only black speaker of the House in the state’s history (1991- 1994).
House Leadership Positions
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain), who was first elected in 2002, was re-elected to a historic fourth term as Speaker. The only two previous speakers of the House elected to four terms were Democrats Liston B. Ramsey (1981-1989) and Jim Black (1999-2006). Moore’s reelection as presiding officer ties the state record for the number of legislative terms holding the position held by Ramsey.
“I am proud we kept our promises to North Carolinians, that our record of results earned strong support from voters across the state, and most of all that I can continue serving the people of Cleveland County who trust me to be their voice in this legislature,” Moore said in a statement after his reelection as speaker of the House.
No changes were made in major leadership roles in the House, with Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne) unanimously re-elected as majority leader. He was first elected to the position in 2016.
Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry) was voted speaker pro tempore, Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus) will serve as deputy majority leader and Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland) was named conference leader.
The majority whip will be Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) and joint conference chair is Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph).
On the minority side of the House, Rep. Robert Reives (D-Chatham), was unanimously elected by the Democratic Caucus as their leader. For the last four years, Reives had been serving as deputy minority leader. Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) said he would not seek another term as House Democratic leader after the Democratic Party’s disappointing performance in the recent general election. Shortly before the new year, he was appointed to the N.C. Court of Appeals. In mid-December, he named Rep. Gale Adcock (D-Wake) as deputy House Democratic leader for the 2021-2022 General Assembly.