Commentary, News

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch:

1. There’s finally a grownup in Raleigh

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

Newly elected Governor 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.[Read more…]

Roy Cooper at Economic Forecast forum2. Gov. Cooper announces he will expand Medicaid, calls for full repeal of HB2, raising teacher pay to national average 

In a startlingly decisive step that took place on just the fourth day of his term in office, Governor Roy Cooper announced this morning that he will take immediate action to expand Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolinians under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Cooper’s action, which has long been sought by health care advocates and important sectors in the health care industry, would make North Carolina the 33rd state (including the District of Columbia) to adopt Medicaid expansion. Click here to see the current list.

Cooper’s action seems certain to spur howls of protest from Republican lawmakers and conservative advocacy groups that have long derided Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act (aka”Obamacare”) as “socialized medicine.” Four years ago, at the outset of the administration of Cooper’s predecessor, Pat McCrory, North Carolina legislators enacted a law that purports to prevent the Governor from acting unilaterally to expand Medicaid. Cooper, however, believes that he has authority to act in his role as the state official empowered to craft and negotiate the “Medicaid waiver” plan that North Carolina is currently negotiating with federal officials. It is known that McCrory engaged in conversations with the Obama administration on such a possible move.[Read more…]

Bonus video: WATCH: Governor Cooper explain his plan for Medicaid expansion

3. Gov. Cooper names Michael Regan, former EPA, Environmental Defense Fund to lead NCDEQ

As soon as Michael Regan spoke at the governor’s mansion today, it became clear that he is the antithesis of Donald van der Vaart.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s choice to lead the state Department of Environmental Quality, Regan was softspoken, yet confident. In contrast, as DEQ secretary, van der Vaart exerted his authority through a domineering, even defensive persona. Both men do have expertise in air quality: Regan worked for 10 years at the EPA in that division. Meanwhile, van der Vaart, who aspires to work at the EPA, last week demoted himself back to a section chief in DEQ’s air quality division as a way to avoid being fired as political appointee.

But the similarities end there. Regan is a clean energy proponent, having spent eight years as the National Director of Energy Efficiency Southeast Climate & Energy Policy at the Environmental Defense Fund (where he also worked as Southeast regional director).[Read more…]

4. New Superintendent of Public Instruction highlights urgent need to transform “outdated” school system

Mark Johnson to begin his term with a listening tour

Pledging to “transform” North Carolina public schools, new Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson told members of the State Board of Education Thursday that he believes the state’s system of schooling is “outdated.”

“I will be generous and say that this system was designed for students in the 1950s,” Johnson said. “I will be generous because you could probably trace this system back to the 1920s or even earlier.”

Johnson’s comments, while lacking specifics on planned reforms, marked his first extended address to the state board since stunning longtime Democratic Superintendent June Atkinson in November’s election. And they come in the midst of a broiling legal dispute between the state board and the state legislature over the powers of his office.[Read more…]

5. Three-judge panel temporarily blocks law overhauling State Board of Elections

A three-judge panel upheld Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to block a new law that would overhaul the State Elections Board.

Cooper’s attorney, Jim Phillips of Greensboro, has not returned a phone or email message seeking to confirm the news, and a trial court administrator said she could not confirm it until an order is entered in the case. As of 11 a.m. Friday, an order had not yet been entered.

The judges heard arguments in the case Thursday morning but said they would not be making a ruling from the bench. The Associated Press reported that word about the decision came late Thursday from a court administrator writing to the lawyers in the case on behalf of the judges. [Read more…]

***Bonus reads and additional background:


****Upcoming event: Jan. 18 Crucial Conversation — What is the true state of the economy and how do we make it work for everyone?

NC Policy Watch presents our first Crucial Conversation luncheon of 2017:

What is the true state of the economy and how do we make it work for everyone? Featuring special guest, Dr. William Spriggs, Chief Economist for the national AFL-CIO. Register here.

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