A bipartisan group of five former North Carolina governors sent a letter to top lawmakers opposing bills that would take appointment authority from the governor and transfer it to the Republican-led General Assembly.
“We fear that it would inflict real chaos and harm upon the people of our state,” wrote former Govs. Jim Hunt, Jim Martin, Mike Easley, Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory.
“The Governor is charged under the state Constitution with carrying out the laws you pass and it is much more difficult to do this effectively with boards that have less than a clear majority of appointees from the Governor,” they wrote.
But over those objections from all five of the state’s living ex-governors, the N.C. Senate advanced a bill Thursday stripping the governor of his power to appoint community college leaders as well as strengthening the power of the community college system president.
Senate Bill 692 would give lawmakers more control over the 58-campus community college system. It would give the legislature:
- The power to make appointments to the State Board of Community Colleges that are now made by the governor.
- The power to appoint members to each campus board that are now made by the governor and local school boards.
- The final decision on naming the system’s president, which is now made by the state board.
Control of the General Assembly further shifted to Republicans this year, and they have been using it to make more changes to the way power is distributed in the state, largely via bills that take power from the governor and give it to lawmakers.
While Republicans have been the majority party in the legislature for years, after elections last year they gained enough seats to pass many bills they wanted even if Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed them.
Republicans gained a full supermajority this month when Rep. Tricia Cotham switched her party from Democratic to Republican.
Lauren Horsch, a spokesperson for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, who is a co-sponsor of SB 692, downplayed the ex-governors’ opposition.
“It’s not surprising that five former governors care more about amassing as much power as possible for one person rather than balancing these so-called independent boards,” Horsch said in a statement.
“The General Assembly remains the branch of government that most closely represents the people of North Carolina. It has members that represent every inch of this state that can find and put forth a qualified slate of appointees that will be voted on by 170 people, instead of being hand-picked by one,” she wrote.
The other two bills called out in the letter are Senate Bill 512, which makes changes to how appointments are made across many state commissions, and House Bill 17, which calls for the State Board of Education to become an elected body instead of one appointed largely by the governor.
Community college bill advances
SB 692 passed the Senate Rules Committee along party lines, receiving strong objections from Democrats.
“I’m going to try to call it for what it is, which is a power grab by the legislature down into local governments of local community colleges, most of which I think even by your own admission, are working just fine,” said Sen. Julie Mayfield, a Buncombe County Democrat.
Republicans countered that the state constitution grants broad educational powers to the legislature.
“This is not a power grab,” Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said. “This is returning things back to the way that they should be, that they should have been all along.”
Democrats repeatedly pushed the bill’s sponsors to provide specific examples of community colleges where the current governance structure was not working. Galey and the bill’s other sponsor, Sen. Tom McInnis, said it would be inappropriate to single those schools out in public.
“I don’t want to talk about people who aren’t here to defend themselves, I do think that’s unfair to them,” Galey said. “…The emphasis of the bill is to look at the overall structure, to think about how it can be strengthened.”
Community college president choice expected soon
The bill comes as the state board is without a permanent president and is seeking a replacement for Thomas Stith, who resigned as president in July. The system across recent years has seen multiple departures.
Galey said the bill was “about workforce development” and that legislators had to be sure “community colleges are as well-positioned as possible to meet the needs of new employers.”
“Our community colleges must be nimble, responsive organizations better eager to interface with new business. A small number of negative experiences for prospective employers, poison economic development for the entire state,” she said.
Nathan Hardin, a spokesperson for the community college system, said the system expects to appoint a president Friday in a public vote.
It is unclear whether SB692, if passed, could affect any president elected by the board.