by Dr. Donald R. van der Vaart
Former Secretary, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
Growing up in North Carolina, I was told to distrust those who were dishonest because “one fib leads to another.” Indeed, neurological research has reported physiological changes that occur when someone is dishonest and that the changes facilitate additional untruths. Career politicians and their devotees appear to be most severely afflicted.
Late in his first statewide race for attorney general, Roy Cooper was facing polls that indicated that he might lose to his opponent Dan Boyce. The response from his team was that they needed to “…hit Boyce and hit him soon.” A week before the election, a campaign ad, partially penned by Cooper himself, aired that accused his opponent of various unethical actions linked to a lawsuit that had no connection with his opponent.
The Boyce campaign contacted Cooper’s campaign the next day, explaining that the ad was false on various points. The ads, nevertheless, continued. Cooper won the race, but Boyce filed a lawsuit for libel against the new attorney general. Cooper repeatedly told the court that the ads were true. Fourteen years later, Cooper finally apologized and paid Boyce’s legal fees.
Much more recently, Governor Cooper was embroiled in a scandal surrounding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) that led the news media to call for an official investigation. Contemporaneously with the Cooper administration announcing their approval of a key environmental permit for the pipeline project, two “concessions” granted by ACP to Cooper were announced. The first was a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which granted Cooper $58 million (in what appeared to be a slush fund) in exchange for permits and approvals of the project. The other was a major settlement agreement between Duke Energy and the solar industry, which would cost ratepayers more than $100 million, brokered by the governor. Questions about the relationship of all three events soon followed, and in one press event, Nick Ochsner of WBTV asked Gov. Cooper directly whether the solar agreement, the permit, and MOU were tied in any way. Cooper responded, “All completely separate issues.”
But the MOU explicitly exchanged the money for all needed permits for the pipeline project and even provided for reimbursement of the money by Cooper if any permits were not approved or maintained. The permits and the MOU were explicitly linked. And when Gov. Cooper’s chief counsel Will McKinney texted Cooper that he was planning to sign the MOU the next day, Cooper’s response was, “Where are the solar boys on their deal?” The result was that Mr. McKinney did not sign the MOU as scheduled. In short, the permits were linked to the MOU, which was linked to the solar deal. Indeed, the MOU was signed weeks later in a coordinated public relations event coincident with the approval of a critical water permit. The solar deal was announced shortly after that. The brain of Cooper’s senior aide, Ken Eudy, may also have changed to accommodate his testimony in front of the General Assembly.
Last week, Gov. Cooper blamed a 2015 law for his having to invoke a safety clause to remove additional monuments from the Capitol grounds temporarily. He said, “If the legislature had repealed their 2015 law that puts up legal roadblocks to monument removal we could have avoided the dangerous incidents of last night.”
Cooper was referring to NCGS 100.2.1, which passed the Senate unanimously, including a vote in favor of it by then-senator and current attorney general Josh Stein. The law provided a mechanism to handle decisions about monuments on state property. The process revolved around a historical commission comprised entirely of members appointed by the governor. Here’s what the law says about removing statutes:
(a) Approval Required. – Except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) of this section, a monument, memorial, or work of art owned by the State may not be removed, relocated, or altered in any way without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.
The current makeup of the NC Historical Commission has eight members out of 11 that were appointed by Gov. Cooper.
Under the law that Attorney General Stein voted for, Gov. Cooper could have protected the health of the protestors by first having the Capitol Police prevent them from climbing on the structures. Our police serve and protect. The governor could then have asked the commission, now staffed with eight of his acolytes, to consider moving monuments. So, whose “fault” was it that the monument law blocked Cooper from removing the monuments? Was it Josh Stein? Was it the eight Cooper appointees granted authority to make such a removal under the 2015 law? Or did Cooper, after petulantly whisking the monuments away, simply want someone else to blame after the fact?
These are just three instances where Gov. Cooper has made statements that appear to be contrary to the facts. Cooper repeatedly denied the charge of libeling his political opponent a week before the election only to apologize years later, then he adamantly denied any relationship between important concessions Duke Energy made for a critical water permit they needed from Cooper (while the record demonstrates otherwise). Then, he rashly ignored the law only to deny its meaning when removing monuments.
I’m not lying when I say that this is alarming behavior…even for a politician.