(The Center Square) – North Carolina Chamber of Commerce leadership, in a public letter Sunday, blasted Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper for his criticisms tied to race in gubernatorial judicial and quasi-judicial roles.
The letter from Gary Salamido, the president and CEO of the chamber with a party registration of unaffiliated, reads in part that Cooper’s “outrageous claims of racism is enormously hurtful and dispiriting.” He also writes, “Your inappropriate assertion that the NC Chamber staff is in any way, intentionally or not, racially motivated is extraordinarily misplaced, highly offensive, and completely without merit.”
Salamido wrote to Cooper, “It is sadly notable that your Friday correspondence was initially delivered to the media and then to our organization.” The chamber gave a brief statement Friday against the end-of-the-week news dump, then unloaded after fact-checking the governor in lame duck status.
Both letters acknowledge chamber influence on nominees to be confirmed by the General Assembly.
Cooper made criticisms about rejection of his Black nominees to the North Carolina Board of Review, the North Carolina Industrial Commission, and the North Carolina Business Court. Facts in multiple instances were unkind to Cooper, a lawyer by trade with about a week and 13 months to go in office.
Among the explanations:
• Of the Board of Review, Cooper wrote, “Unfortunately, the record shows an alarming racial disparity in the confirmation of white and Black nominees, including the failed nomination of six (6) consecutive Black nominees to the Board of Review in 2021 and 2022.” Salamido wrote Cooper “conveniently ignores that the nominee that was ultimately confirmed is Black.” And, “As a result, the Board now consists entirely of women, two of whom are Black. To be clear, all three members of the Board are your appointees.”
• Also with the Board of Review, Salamido noted three nominees said that if they were confirmed they would maintain distant law practices. The board in 2021 had 7,000 pending appeals – not a part-time job, Salamido said – and a nominee confirmed would be paid $148,000 annually. That’s about 75% of what the governor makes this year, and more than $134,000 better than a member of the General Assembly.
• Salamido points out past litigation history against a Cooper nominee for the Business Court. And, he jabs that the nominee is general counsel for the Department of Revenue “which lost yet another tax case in the Business Court recently.”
Cooper, later in the letter, says for the North Carolina Business Court, the Industrial Commission, and the Board of Review combined, “Since 2017, the General Assembly has confirmed only 5 out of 14 (36%) Black nominees but approved 12 out of 14 (86%) of the white nominees. The discrepancy is stark and reflects at best a huge blind spot for the General Assembly and at worst a record of troubling racism.”
The governor’s statistics and letter fail to mention as Salamido did that six Black nominees for one position were ultimately followed by a confirmed Black nominee. While it doesn’t make the 36% statistic 62.5% (five of eight), it does show skewed analysis, particularly with all three members women, and two Black – a composition that objectively fails Cooper’s bottom-line charge of bias against Blacks by the chamber.
The chamber president took a parting shot, pointing out the upcoming governor’s race and Cooper’s endorsement of Attorney General Josh Stein, who is white, over former Supreme Court Judge Mike Morgan, who is Black. Salamido then added, “you also appointed a non-minority to fill his open seat on the Supreme Court.”
The respective letters conclude with Salamido writing the chamber is hopeful Cooper, as he ends his term, will “thoughtfully build bridges through effective communication and collaboration.” Cooper’s letter concludes, “I ask that you confer with your staff and members, look at the facts, and reflect on the damage the Chamber’s actions can cause to our state’s reputation, business community and judicial system. A real change is necessary.”