NC Chamber blasts Cooper over his accusation of racial bias
By Donna King
In a letter Sunday to Gov. Roy Cooper, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce called his accusations of racial bias in the Chamber’s work “malevolent and libelous.”
It was in response to a Friday letter from Cooper, in which he accused the Chamber of “outsized influence” over the NC General Assembly’s “habitual failure … to confirm Black nominees to judicial and quasi-judicial roles.”
Cooper’s accusation was delivered in a two-page letter, not to the Chamber of Commerce, but to the media, the Chamber says. Cooper details what he describes as the legislature’s “pathetic” record of approving his black nominees for business court judges, the Industrial Commission, and other posts. He said the Chamber influences the outcome and should be pushing to get black appointees confirmed.
“I ask that you confer with your staff and members, look at the facts, and look at the damage that the Chamber’s actions can cause to our state’s reputation, business community, and judicial system,” Cooper’s letter concludes.
‘BENEATH THE DIGNITY OF YOUR OFFICE’
The Chamber’s response called Cooper’s letter “meritless and beneath the dignity of your office,” matching the combative tone from Cooper.
“The NC Chamber is profoundly disappointed regarding the decaying state of discourse and civility laid bare by communications such as your letter,” wrote Gary Salamido, Chamber president and CEO. “Having worked tirelessly and effectively to secure a promising future for the entirety of North Carolina’s business community – and always doing so without regard to identity – being wrongly and arrogantly lectured to by the state’s chief executive with outrageous claims of racism is enormously hurtful and dispiriting. It was a moment our team will never forget and one we trust you will not repeat.”
Salamido points out that Cooper did not detail any of his own work or political capital spent to ensure the confirmation of his nominees, nor the actual reasons that some were not confirmed.
“You have publicly attacked our organization, suggesting we collude with another branch of government to deny the fruits of those benefits to a certain racial class,” Salamido continued. “Taken in its best light, your commentary is simply and patently wrong. In its worst light, it is malevolent and libelous.”
‘ALARMING RACIAL DISPARITY’
North Carolina law establishes the nomination process for such posts to involve both executive and legislative branches of government. The executive branch offers nominations in the form of appointees, and the legislative branch makes the final decision, or confirmation. The tension between the two branches is inherent to the process, says the Chamber. Cooper is currently suing the legislature, calling a new law that reduces his appointment power on the State Board of Elections unconstitutional.
In Friday’s letter, Cooper used the North Carolina Board of Review as an example of an “alarming racial disparity.” The board currently consists of three women, all of whom are Cooper appointees and two of whom are black. Among Cooper’s failed nominees was Larry Hall, former chair of the House Democratic Caucus, whom Cooper appointed for the Board of Review, but was not confirmed by his former colleagues.
“It does not strain the imagination to suggest that the nominee possessed a host of personal relationships with the very members of the House and Senate who were considering his nomination,” Salamido wrote. “The NC Chamber will leave it to reasonable minds to consider whether it might have been those relationships, rather than any action or inaction by the NC Chamber, which led to this failed confirmation.”
Cooper said in his letter that the General Assembly has confirmed 13 out of 33 of his black nominees but 42 out of his 70 white nominees. He said the discrepancy is either a blind spot or “a record of troubling racism.”
“An organization that is designed to help the economy and North Carolina businesses should be strongly supporting the speedy confirmation of qualified Black nominees to positions of leadership in our state,” he wrote.
Cooper called on the Chamber to flex its political muscle for more black nominees. In a detailed description of questionable nominating decisions by the governor, the Chamber suggested that he devote more time to discussing and vetting nominees before presenting them to the legislature.
“We are proud of our role in helping North Carolina maintain its reputation as the nation’s number one state for business; we hope to work together to maintain that momentum,” Salamido wrote. “That will not happen if we level dispirited accusations without earnestly engaging in the more energy-consuming task of agreeing to disagree amicably, particularly when it relates to the qualifications and full commitment, not the immutable characteristics, of those being considered for the high calling of serving our state.”