Republicans in the legislature took another swing at Governor Cooper Wednesday, creating two subcommittees to investigate his handling of the Hurricane Matthew relief effort and a $57.8 million discretionary fund for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
While some Democrats questioned the need for the probes, Republicans were adamant that both issues required further examination, doing little to hide their disdain for the Cooper administration. Although representatives from Cooper’s office were in attendance, they weren’t allowed to answer any questions lawmakers asked during the more than two-hour Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations meeting.
The first subcommittee will look into delays in Hurricane Matthew disaster relief funding. Nearly two years after the hurricane devastated the coastline, Senator Danny Britt, a Republican from Columbus and Robeson Counties, said many of his constituents remain homeless.
“They have been waiting hopelessly and in vain for relief,” Britt said.
A second subcommittee was created to into a $57.8 million discretionary fund from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project after Senator Paul Newton accused Cooper of lacking transparency and giving the appearance of a “pay to play,” environment.
Senator Floyd B. McKissick Jr., a Durham Democrat, was wary of starting the pipeline probe, noting there were few unanswered questions about the funds, which were earmarked to help mitigate the environmental impact of the pipeline and provide economic aid to communities in its path.
“I don’t want to see us go down this path of having it become a political witch hunt,” McKissick said, noting the subcommittee could amount to, “going nowhere except trying to peg Governor Cooper to the wall.”
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson questioned why Republicans were bringing up the ACP now, weeks before an election, and not earlier, when it could have been handled in session.
“Last time I checked, the governor is not on the ballot,” Newton replied, dodging Jackson’s implication that the probes were politically motivated.
After the subcommittees were approved, Cooper chief of staff Kristi Jones defended the administration’s handling of both issues, pointing out that $740 million has already been spent on hurricane relief. The administration, Jones said, has always been transparent about its intent with the pipeline funds.
“There is no secrecy in the executive branch,” Jones said. “We announced the fund. It was always intended to benefit eastern North Carolina and it’s really unbelievable you would even imply otherwise.”