If North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood resigns in the wake of her hit-and-run controversy, Gov. Roy Cooper would appoint her replacement.
Wood, like Cooper, is a Democrat. While the North Carolina Republican Party has called for Wood to resign, the top Republicans in the General Assembly have not.
Both Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters on Wednesday that they are not calling for her resignation, at least not yet.
The News & Observer has asked both Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat who is running for governor, if they think Wood should resign. Through spokespeople, neither answered the question.
Wood, or at least her lawyer, will be in Wake County District Court on Thursday in connection with the Dec. 8 incident in which she left the scene of a collision with a parked car. In just the past few days, her spokesperson resigned; she described the incident as a “serious mistake;” and video shot downtown surfaced appearing to show her entering the nearby law office of former Democratic Attorney General Rufus Edmisten while her car was on top of another car.
Wood has resisted calls to resign. “I made a mistake in judgment on December 8,” she said Monday in a statement, “but I am committed to continuing to perform my duties with the same energy and determination I am known for.”
The state auditor, like the other statewide elected officials, serves a four-year term. The next election is in 2024.
Could an official like the auditor be removed, and what happens next?
Section 7.3 of the North Carolina Constitution lays out the process for a member of the Council of State other than the governor leaving office.
If Wood or other Council of State members resign, the governor appoints a person to serve until their successor is elected. The next election is required to be the same one in which members of the General Assembly are next elected, at least 60 days later. Because the General Assembly is elected every two years, that still means 2024.
The constitution gives the governor sole responsibility to appoint the replacement. The governor can also appoint an interim officer until a new one is appointed or elected in the event of a vacancy created by “death, resignation, or otherwise.”
There is also a process for filling positions with acting officers if a position is vacated because of physical or mental incapacity to do their job. Aside from that, the only way to remove a Council of State member from office is impeachment. The House has the power to impeach, and the Senate is the court of impeachment. That is very unlikely to happen to Wood, given that the leaders of both chambers are not even asking her to resign.
What Republicans say
Berger said that both Republicans and Democrats believe Wood has done “an exceptional job” as auditor.
“Even with that, though, the events of December really call into question a lot of things. Whether that rises to the level of she ought to resign, is something that I think folks reasonably want to inquire about,” Berger told reporters on Wednesday.
Berger said he didn’t vote for her in 2020 and doesn’t intend to in the future. “I don’t know that that’s a call for resignation, but it’s a recognition that I would look for a change at some point.”
He said other elected officials have been convicted of “far worse offenses than leaving the scene of an accident. Ultimately it is up to voters to make those kinds of decisions. That’s our system,” he said.
Moore also told reporters on Wednesday that as an attorney, he’ll “say everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But certainly it raises some questions and I think you have to let the criminal justice process take its path.”
Asked if he thinks Wood should resign, Moore said the court process needs to play itself out.
“Any person, regardless of who they are, is entitled to be presumed innocent and have their day in court when there’s a criminal justice investigation,” he said. “I just I don’t believe in just kind of piling on on something like that. I mean, I’d hate to be in that situation. I’ll tell you that,” Moore said.
State Rep. Jon Hardister didn’t call for Wood to resign either, telling The News & Observer that it is “a sad situation. Hardister is a Guilford County Republican who is running for labor commissioner, which like the auditor is a Council of State position.
“I’m not going to go that far just yet. I’d want to have more information. I just wish the best for her family,” he said.
“Beth Wood is a person I respect. We may be on different sides of the aisle, but she’s done a fairly effective job as an auditor. All that aside, this is just a human issue, right? And I hate to see this happen to anybody,” Hardister said Wednesday.
Hardister said that beyond the statement Wood has already made, “now that there’s some video evidence that surfaced, she might have a little bit more to say. I think the best thing she could do is just to be honest with her constituents and, you know, explain what occurred. Because obviously, none of us want to see this happen to anybody — no matter what side of the aisle you’re on — but it’s a sad situation.”
What Democrats say
As for Democrats, Cooper spokesperson Sam Chan said this week that it was a “troubling incident” and that the governor had not communicated with Wood about it.
On Wednesday, Senate Democratic Whip Jay Chaudhuri, of Raleigh, said the reports about Wood’s car accident “raise some serious concerns and questions.”
“I believe the Raleigh Police Department and Wake County District Attorney should continue its investigation, and Auditor Wood should be held accountable for any actions,” Chaudhuri told The N&O.
Several other Democratic lawmakers declined to comment about Wood.
The state auditor’s annual salary is $146,421.