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Fitzsimon: There's finally a grownup in Raleigh

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

We are only a few days into the New Year but two starkly different political styles are already on display in Raleigh.

Newly elected Gov. Roy Cooper is beginning his term by methodically announcing his choices for cabinet posts after calling Republican legislative leaders to inform them of his decisions. And they are good ones.

Tuesday Cooper named Michael Regan to head the state Department of Environmental Quality. He was most recently with the Environmental Defense Fund and worked at the EPA in Democratic and Republican Administrations.

Cooper also named Jim Trogdon to head the state Department of Transportation. Trogdon is an engineer who is currently the national transportation director for SAS Institute. He worked at DOT for 25 years, rising to chief operating officer before retiring in 2013.

House Republicans immediately took to social media to blast the appointments as a return to the failed administration of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue who left office in 2012.

But Regan never worked for Perdue. And Trogdon is not a politician and will be the most qualified DOT Secretary in recent memory with his experience in the department, the military and the private sector.

That doesn’t matter of course. Republican officials are criticizing the appointments because Cooper made them. Experience and qualifications have nothing to do with it.

Not too long ago political leaders would leave the attacks to interest groups and judge appointments and new administrations on their merits and actions. Not in Raleigh this year.

Cooper also announced this week that Charlie Perusse would be the new state budget director, a post he held under Gov. Perdue. That set off a round of protests by Republicans claiming that Perusse was somehow to blame for the state’s budget problems during the Great Recession.

Never mind that every state’s budget suffered mightily during the worst national economic downturn in 75 years or that the budget director is primarily numbers person, not a policy advocate.

The premature partisan attacks from Republican leaders haven’t been limited to Cooper’s appointees. Last week Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger released an almost 3,000 word diatribe absurdly blaming Cooper for the failure of the General Assembly to repeal HB2.

Berger ignores two important points: the Republican General Assembly alone passed HB2 and the Republicans have supermajorities in the House and Senate and can repeal it any time they want.

The disastrous HB2 is not Roy Cooper’s law. He’s repeatedly demanded that lawmakers repeal it but legislative leaders aren’t willing to confront their right-wing base so the state continues to suffer.

Berger seems almost obsessed with shifting blame to the new governor after leading the efforts to brazenly limit his power in an unprecedented special session just before Christmas.

Berger’s had some help. Outgoing Governor Pat McCrory signed the legislation taking powers away from Cooper even though McCrory had fought the legislature to protect the office of governor earlier in his administration.

McCrory, taking time away from attacking the news media and “left-wing groups” for his defeat, also appointed some of his top advisers to key policy boards just before the end of the year and his outgoing Secretary of Environmental Quality even demoted himself so he could stay in the department and be a thorn in Cooper’s side.

Cooper meanwhile is taking it all in stride, filing a lawsuit against the power grab by the General Assembly. Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens has issued a temporary restraining order preventing the legislation from taking effect.

And Cooper’s making more appointments and putting his administration together calmly and rationally and keeping legislative leaders in the loop despite their bitter partisanship.

In other words, Cooper is acting like a governor and a grownup. How refreshing.

Chris Fitzsimon is founder and executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.

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