RALEIGH — The Republican-dominated North Carolina Senate moved closer to approving one of new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s picks to run a state agency Thursday after the first Cabinet-member confirmation hearing in living memory.
Military & Veterans Affairs Secretary Larry Hall won approval from two committees and needs only a vote by the full Senate on Monday.
Hall appeared for questioning surrounded by a platoon of about a dozen military veterans, obeying a subpoena demanding his attendance after skipping three previous hearings.
Hall’s earlier no-shows were part of Gov. Roy Cooper’s resistance to a law passed by GOP legislators two weeks before he took office. The law requires Senate approval of his Cabinet appointments and is part of a series of steps Republicans have taken to drain Cooper’s powers.
Hall, until January a legislator himself, wasn’t anticipated to have a difficult time winning confirmation. Stiffer confirmation fights could come if Cooper’s choices to head the state environment and health agencies require Senate approval.
“Obviously, I’ve been frustrated with the executive branch’s approach to these, that we had to go through four different hearings before we could get someone to finally show up. I think that when Secretary Hall finally complied, I think we had a really good hearing,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, a member of both committees approving Hall. “I don’t have that level of tolerance if it continues. I expect that when an acting secretary is called before a committee, we expect them to be there.”
Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, countered that the hearing was premature since it came five days before a three-judge panel considers the constitutional validity of the confirmation law and other GOP moves to hobble Cooper, who narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in November.
The lawsuit before the panel also seeks to reverse laws that give civil service protections to hundreds of McCrory’s old political appointees and slashes Cooper’s own patronage discretion.
Cooper and his attorneys argue the Legislature’s moves infringe on the separation of government powers between the two branches.
Hall arrived at his hearing wearing a bright red blazer with Marine Corps League patch on the breast and was surrounded by a group of about a dozen military veterans supporting him. He discussed his father’s career in the Army Airborne and his own 16-year career as a Marine Corps officer in active and reserve service.
Hall represented Durham County in the General Assembly for a decade and led minority Democrats in the state House for four years before quitting the Legislature to join Cooper’s administration. Hall alluded to the ongoing partisan fight in his opening remarks.
“I understand that we are in a time where we have to rely on our democratic system. Where everyone has to exercise their responsibilities to make that system work. Where courts have to rule, where legislatures have to make legislation, and where citizens have to look to us to understand what they should do,” Hall said. “The confidence we have in our institutions will only remain if we perform our role responsibly and respectfully.”