RALEIGH – The Council of State was established in the North Carolina Constitution to “advise the Governor in the execution of his office.” The positions that constitute the council maybe elected statewide now, instead of selected by the House and Senate, but that should only make their voice and advisement carry that much more weight with the State’s chief executive. During a pandemic crisis, the importance of this consultation rises yet further.
Or should. Governor Roy Cooper has eschewed the advice of the council during , even unilaterally overruling them to close businesses, from the beginning of the state government response to the Wuhan Virus.
Now a majority of the members of the Council of State — including Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey, Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson and Treasurer Dale Folwell — have written a letter asking the governor to convene the council so that they may discuss the reopening of North Carolina.
In it, the council members plead with the governor to recognize the pain and suffering being caused by the one-size-fits-all approach to lifting lockdown and ask for more local flexibility. Read the full letter below.
“Dear Governor Cooper,
We are writing today to request that you convene the Council of State as soon as possible to discuss plans for reopening North Carolina’s economy, with the understanding that we will be dealing with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.
We all understand that shelter-in-place cannot exist forever. With the rest of the Southeast, and the majority of our country, already providing structure and clarity to struggling businesses and workers, North Carolina is lagging in communication. Many of our offices are being flooded with phone calls from businesses that thought they’d be allowed to open after May 1. You are now telling them they have to wait at least another two weeks, with minimal guidance from you. As a majority of the Council, we are asking that you convene the Council of State as soon as possible so that we understand your plan for North Carolina.
We also need the ability to provide clarity to businesses across our state that are dangerously close to permanently closing. And we need clarity as to why you aren’t allowing specific industries to open as our neighboring states have done. To date, over 1 million North Carolinians — many in the restaurant and hospitality industry —
have filed for unemployment, and less than 45% of them have received any assistance. It is heartbreaking to hear the unending high volume of phone calls many of us receive daily from hopeless citizens down to their last few dollars.
There are numerous ways to protect lives and livelihoods at the same time while allowing healthy North Carolina citizens to return to work and giving them the ability to provide for themselves and their families. We would like to discuss, as a Council, provisions relating to restaurants, salons & barbershops, entertainment small businesses, church and worship services, and hospitals and health care.
We understand that you’ve stated in the past you are using the White House’s guidance for
reopening North Carolina. However, it is just that — guidance for the entire country, not a law or a mandate, and it allows maximum flexibility down to the county level. The fact that North Carolina is faring better in cases and deaths on a per-capita level than the rest of the nation, and that the majority of deaths are from government-regulated congregate living centers, proves that our citizens can properly social distance and abide by COVID-19 business regulations. The citizens of North Carolina, especially those in need of protecting their livelihoods, are looking to our state leaders to come together and reopen responsibly as soon as possible.
We look forward to working with you, Secretary Cohen, and the rest of the Council of State on how to safely and strategically reopen North Carolina.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest
Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler
Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey
Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry
Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson
Treasurer Dale Folwell