Cooper tabs Hamilton to manage parks


RALEIGH — New Gov. Roy Cooper plucked up another legislator to serve in his Cabinet, naming a House member Thursday to lead the department that manages North Carolina’s parks, protects natural areas and preserves the state’s history.

Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, will head the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, which also oversees aquariums, historic sites and the State Archives. Last week, Cooper announced Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, would lead the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Cooper has now named all but two members of his official Cabinet — those positions leading the Department of Revenue and Department of Information Technology.

A new state law approved by the Republican-controlled legislature requires 11 department heads for Cooper to be subject to confirmation by the state Senate. The governor has challenged that law in court and says his Cabinet choices are working now. Only four of his Cabinet choices, however, had been officially sworn in as of Thursday afternoon, according to Cooper’s office.

Hamilton began serving in the legislature in 2011 and was re-elected in November. In the House she was known for trying to reinstate tax credits for film production companies and the preservation of historic homes and buildings. The historic preservation credit was revived in 2015. The film incentive remains a scaled-down grant program.

Hamilton said her first significant job after college was at what was then the Department of Cultural Resources. She views the current agency’s work in part as a way to assist local economies.

“I’ve learned a lot about how our state government works, and I am looking forward to a coordinated effort with our legislature to get project in all 100 counties,” she said at an Executive Mansion news conference.

Her new job ultimately means New Hanover County Democrats will choose someone to fill out the rest of her two-year term.

Cooper also named the department’s chief deputy as Reid Wilson, executive director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina since 2003. The trust is involved in land preservation, particularly along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Wilson, who worked on Democratic campaigns in the 1980s, was previously chief of staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Department of Cultural Resources was expanded in 2015 to include natural resources activities taken from the state’s environment department.

“I think this team will work effectively together,” Cooper said while citing the department’s expanded responsibilities.

The North Carolina League of Conservation Voters also praised Cooper’s choices for the department in a news release. The league has a jagged history with Hamilton, who voted with Republicans in 2012 to override then-Gov. Beverly Perdue veto of a bill that permitted a form of shale gas exploration known as fracking. Because of her vote, the league rescinded an award for Hamilton at the time for her pro-environmental record.

Hamilton said Thursday her vote was never for fracking but to effectively regulate it. No fracking permits have been issued in the state so far. The department she’ll lead isn’t involved in fracking decisions.

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