A new year and new members haven’t solved tensions within the N.C. Council of State

The Council of State leapt into prominence after Gov. Roy Cooper shut down the state in March. Republicans demanded a check on Cooper’s powers, and they looked to the 10 elected members of the Council of State as a solution. 

State Treasurer Dale Folwell called for more open, transparent meetings of the Council of State during its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12. He has criticized Cooper for failing to consult the council on the economic devastation created by the virus and the lockdowns. 

“Every minute we sit here, there’s more death and poverty being created because of COVID-19,” Folwell said. “I look forward to a day when our communications and our dialogue are more open and we can challenge assumptions.”

Folwell isn’t the only member to blast Cooper for ignoring the council. Former Lt. Gov. Dan Forest sued for more say in how Cooper wielded his emergency powers. The legislature leapt into the fray, passing two bills to empower the Council of State. Both flopped under Cooper’s veto.

The council has three new Republican members — Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt — who will shape the council over the next four years. They attended their first meeting Tuesday. 

The Council of State was relatively noncontroversial before COVID hit. Whenever controversy bubbled up, it wasn’t usually aimed at the council itself. But the council assumed newfound importance with the pandemic, and its new Republican members won’t change that. 

Dobson came from the House, where he headed the Appropriations Committee and the Health Policy Committee. Dobson supports economic reopening, deregulation, and North Carolina’s right-to-work laws. He remains skeptical of unions and minimum wage increases. North Carolina has the second-lowest union membership in the nation, behind only South Carolina. 

Truitt won her seat even after her opponent outraised her by a 6-1 margin with union backing. Truitt’s campaign focused on parents and school choice. She replaces Republican Superintendent Mark Johnson, who repeatedly clashed with the democratic State Board of Education. Truitt has made it a point to advocate for coalition building. 

Robinson is a political newcomer and a gun rights activist. He beat the $8.5 million billionaire Michael Bloomberg poured into supporting Democrat Yvonne Holley. Robinson collected more votes than the two top Republicans on the ticket — President Trump and Sen. Thom Tillis — and almost as many as the governor. 

Like his predecessor, Robinson is staunchly Republican, and he isn’t apologetic about his views — or his Facebook posts. Robinson’s career in politics began after he defended gun rights at a 2018 Greensboro City Council meeting, and his speech went viral.