Both sides now

By Paul T. O'Connor | Feb 07, 2017

RALEIGH -- These are busy times for “political pretzels,” the contortionists who are party diehards.

If they stick with their party in Raleigh, they will contradict their party in Washington, and vice versa. Or, because administrations flipped in Raleigh, they may now disagree with a practice they supported before January 1.

In Raleigh, the state Senate will initiate confirmation hearings for Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet secretaries. Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, says he’s looking for potential conflicts of interest. Democrats are suing.

Exploring for conflicts of interest is exactly what Democratic senators in Washington have done with President Trump’s cabinet nominees so angering Republican committee chairmen that they’ve been obstructing the reviews.

At one such hearing two years ago, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions asked Sally Yates if she would defy, as deputy attorney general, an illegal order from then-President Barack Obama.

Yates gave Sessions the answer he wanted: Yes. Then, last month, she defied President Trump and immediately got fired. Now the table has been turned on Sessions and he is being asked his own question in his own confirmation hearings for attorney general: Will he stand up to Trump?

It’s a question then-N.C. Attorney General Cooper answered several times in the last four years, refusing to defend Republican legislative actions he considered unconstitutional. And every time, Republicans howled that he wasn’t doing his job.

Former Secretary Donald van der Vaart liked working in Gov. Pat McCrory’s Department of Environmental Quality so much that after Cooper beat McCrory he demoted himself, taking a protected civil service job to stay employed. Usually, cabinet secretaries leave with their governor.

Nice trick. But shouldn’t Cooper still be able to fire van der Vaart and hire his own people?

If he does, he’ll run into a case before the N.C. Supreme Court. John Ledford, a Democrat and former director of N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement, is the plaintiff. He demoted himself four years ago just before McCrory replaced Gov. Bev Perdue. McCrory fired Ledford, and Ledford is suing to get his job and back pay. It’s all very confusing.

Among the confused must be the N.C. Supreme Court justices; Democrats now hold a majority of seats. Their decision will make one Democrat happy and one sad. Their only recourse might be to put politics aside and follow the law, if anyone knows what that is.

(An aside: Remember the Republican criticism of Obama’s Supreme Court choices as all Ivy League elitists? Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, has degrees from Columbia and Harvard, same resume as Obama. He also has a Ph.D. earned at Bill Clinton’s old school, Oxford in England. Gorsuch is a real everyman.)

Cooper fired David Prickett, a Health and Human Services spokesperson. Prickett’s suing to keep his job. In the first weeks of most new administrations, spokespersons, or “flacks” as reporters call them, are replaced. McCrory hired his own flacks in 2013.

Flacks mouth the boss’s propaganda, and why anyone would want to first justify McCrory and then Cooper is a mystery to me. Maybe Prickett needs the job. I sympathize with him.

But, Republicans who cheer for him today had better understand that if he wins and sets legal precedent they’ll be stuck with Democrats as mouthpieces for the next Republican governor.

Most of us either support confirmation hearings or not, support executive hiring decisions or not. Pretzels just contradict themselves and support whatever their party tells them to support.

Remember that old saying about what’s good for the goose and the gander? Pretzels aren’t good for either.

 

Paul T. O’Connor has covered state government for 39 years.