Durham Herald Dec 17, 2016
RALEIGH — North Carolina Republicans stripped the incoming Democratic governor of some of his authority on Friday and they were on the cusp of an even greater power grab, an extraordinary move that critics said flies in the face of voters.
Just last week, it appeared Republicans were ready to finally accept Democrats’ narrow win in a contentious governor’s race. As it turns out, they weren’t done fighting. In a surprise special session in the dying days of the old administration, some say the Republican-dominated legislature has thrown the government into total disarray, approving two bills aimed at emasculating incoming Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration. One of them was signed into law by the current governor.
Cooper, the current attorney general, has threatened to sue. And many in the state are accusing Republicans of letting sour grapes over losing the governor’s mansion turn into a legislative coup.
“This was a pure power grab,” said retired school librarian Carolyn White, 62, a long-time demonstrator who was arrested as part of the “Moral Monday” protests against GOP-led legislative policies. “I got arrested two years ago. Did it make any difference? No. But just like the civil rights movement, it’s forward together. You just have to keep going forward.”
The protesters were so loud that Senate and House cleared the galleries — a highly unusual move. More than 50 people were arrested this week, and as demonstrators were led away from the Legislative Building, some chanted “all political power comes from the people.” Those that remained behind could only watch the debate through glass windows or listen to it online.
Hundreds stomped their feet and yelled outside the gallery, causing several Republican lawmakers to note they were having trouble hearing during the debate. Democrats repeatedly stated their objections.
“The kindergartners are getting rowdy,” said Republican Rep. Dana Bumgardner.
He said Democrats were “creating out of thin air a talking point for the next election.”
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who lost to Cooper by about 10,000 votes, quickly signed into law a bill that merges the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission into one board comprised equally of Democrats and Republicans. The previous state elections board law would have allowed Cooper to put a majority of Democrats on the elections panel.
The law would also make elections for appellate court judgeships officially partisan again.
Another bill that received final legislative approval would force Cooper’s Cabinet choices to be subject to Senate confirmation. Before adjourning, lawmakers confirmed a salaried appointment to the state Industrial Commission for the wife of McCrory’s chief of staff. McCrory nominated her.
McCrory must decide whether to sign the second law passed by the General Assembly, a body that has repeatedly tugged him to the right even though he campaigned as a moderate in 2012 as Charlotte’s former mayor.
Republicans insist the legislation is simply adjusting the constitutional powers already granted to the General Assembly. Many provisions had been debated for years but had either gotten blocked or the Democratic viewpoint previously won out.