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Effort to strip governor's appointment powers could prompt veto, lawsuit

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, talks with reporters after the Senate's session on Aug. 17.
Colin Campbell
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, talks with reporters after the Senate's session on Aug. 17, 2023.

Legislation to weaken the governor’s appointment powers is headed to Gov. Roy Cooper for a likely veto.

The governor currently gets to pick most members of the State Board of Transportation, the Utilities Commission and the Coastal Resources Commission.

A bill that passed the House and Senate along party lines this week would allow legislative leaders to select more members on each of those boards and several others. Supporters say the change would diversify the boards that oversee things like electric rates and highway construction.

“Instead of just the governor getting to decide these appointments … it’s a better way to do it because of the diversity in this body and across the state,” said House Rules Chairman Destin Hall, R-Caldwell.

But House Democratic Leader Robert Reives says the change is a power grab that violates the constitution’s separation of powers.

“I can guarantee if the roles were reversed, what a lot of you would be feeling about this particular bill,” Reives said. "If this was taking power from a Republican governor by a Democratic legislature, I know what we would be doing."

The final version of the bill dropped a House proposal to increase the size of the UNC Board of Governors.

The bill would also tweak the appointment process for the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Economic Investment Committee (which oversees jobs incentive grants), the Environmental Management Commission, the UNC Health Board of Directors and the N.C. Railroad Board of Directors.

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters Thursday that he expects Cooper will veto the bill and then sue to block the changes. He says he “welcomes” a lawsuit to get more legal clarity on how appointments should be divided between the legislative and executive branches of government.

Previous attempts to reduce the governor’s appointment powers prompted a lawsuit from then-Gov. Pat McCrory — a Republican, now also involved with the No Labels party — who was able to get the state Supreme Court to rule the change unconstitutional.

“I think there's been some very bad precedent,” Moore said. “And I hope — I have no way to know — but I hope that this current Supreme Court will go back and fix some mistakes of the past.”

Republicans recently gained a majority on the Supreme Court, and have already overturned some rulings from the previous court.

Senate leader Phil Berger said he expects one point of contention could be the Board of Transportation, because the bill calls for the legislature to appoint 14 of 20 members.

“It's our belief that given what the Board of Transportation is charged with doing, that that is fully within the constitution,” he said.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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