This week in North Carolina politics was marked by inactivity at the General Assembly, which adjourned last week and is not scheduled to reconvene until late November, however, developments continued in the judicial and electoral arenas.
A panel of bipartisan Court of Appeals judges issued a temporary injunction on Wednesday, partially blocking a newly passed law that would shift some of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s appointment powers to the legislature. SB 512: Greater Accountability for Boards/Commissions seeks to redistribute some appointment authority from the governor to the legislature and other elected officials. The court’s order specifically prevents changes in appointment powers affecting the Economic Investment Committee, the Commission for Public Health, and the Board of Transportation, while leaving adjustments to other bodies intact.
In election news, the race for governor experienced a shift as Republican candidate Jesse Thomas exited to pursue the Secretary of State office. Thomas’ withdrawal comes on the heels of former North Carolina Congressman Mark Walker’s decision last week to run for Congress in the newly established 6th District. The Republican primary for governor now features attorney Bill Graham, State Treasurer Dale Falwell, and Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, who are vying to face the democratic nominee, likely Attorney General Josh Stein, in the general election.
State Auditor Beth Wood, a Democrat, also announced this week that she would not run for re-election in 2024. Wood has served as State Auditor since 2009.
House Oversight Meeting
At a House Committee on Oversight and Reform meeting this week, North Carolina legislators examined the delays and potential fraud in the state’s unemployment benefits distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 1.5 million citizens affected and claims surging to 54,000 in a single day, the Division of Employment Security’s preparedness was called into question.
State Auditor Beth Wood provided a clear-cut analysis: “The biggest issue…was the lack of preparedness for what happened.” Antwon Keith, Assistant Secretary of the North Carolina Division of Employment Security, testified about the unprecedented volume of claims and outlined the response to the unexpected crisis.
Representative Jeff McNeely (R-Iredell) questioned whether the executive branch could have given the unemployment office more advance notice of the shutdowns initiated in March 2020. Wood suggested that, in any case, the division’s capability to process claims should have been robust.
The committee focused on the need for timely and accurate benefit payments, noting that only 60% met the federal guideline for promptness. Keith highlighted improvements made since the pandemic, such as updates to the unemployment website and new measures to prevent fraud.
The discussion also mentioned HB 471: State Auditor/Info. Systems/Corrective Action, which requires state agencies to report on their implementation of audit recommendations, underscoring the legislature’s role in ensuring accountability. The bill, as Wood indicated, could help enforce compliance with state audit recommendations.
The committee’s inquiries underscored a nonpartisan effort to address the shortcomings in the unemployment system and to prevent similar issues in the future.
Additionally, during the committee meeting, Wood announced to legislators she would not be running for re-election in 2024. “I just wanted to take this time today to announce to this committee, whose many members are near and dear to my heart and (I) enjoy working with them, that I’m announcing this afternoon that I am not running for reelection,” Wood said.
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
No legislative meetings are scheduled for next week.