The recent defeat of North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has provoked a coup from Republicans aimed at stiff-arming the incoming Democratic administration.
On Friday (which is traditionally known in the media industry as a “dump day” when significant news gets buried before the weekend), Gov. McCrory signed a bill into law that hindered incoming Governor Roy Cooper’s administration by merging the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission into one panel made up equally of Democrats and Republicans.
Prior to the bill’s passage, governors were allowed to appoint a majority of board members from their party to each panel. This is significant, as the State Board of Elections oversees city and county election panels, and the incoming governor could feasibly move the State Board of Elections to eliminate or lessen the numerous laws passed by the prior administration that make it harder for traditionally Democratic-leaning constituencies to vote.
According to local media, the state legislature is also aiming to use McCrory’s last two weeks in office to pass additional bills that seek to limit executive power, most notably a bill that would require the state senate — which is under Republican control — to approve all of Gov. Cooper’s cabinet appointees. Other bills would lessen the number of executive appointments from 1,500 to 300, and hamper the governor’s oversight of the state’s public universities.
The bills were introduced in a surprise special session announced earlier this week, which was called only after legislators were already at the General Assembly building in Raleigh to vote in a separate special session convened to pass disaster relief funding. Protesters soon flooded galleries in both legislative chambers, and General Assembly police have arrested at least 50 nonviolent demonstrators for refusing orders to disperse, according to NPR.
Governor-elect Cooper blasted the legislature for keeping their agenda hidden from the public eye.
“They knew for weeks what they were going to do and they didn’t tell the public. That’s wrong,” Cooper told WUNC. “They need to put these issues out on the table so that the people know about them so that there’s time to debate them.”
To understand the scope of the power-grab just passed by North Carolina’s right-wing extremist legislature, and signed into law by outgoing Gov. McCrory — whom voters rejected on November 8 — it’s important to note that the Tar Heel State’s House and Senate have been the architects of some of the most draconian, punitive legislation in the nation since 2010.
After the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. FEC ruling was decided in 2010, which deemed that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, North Carolina oligarch Art Pope almost singlehandedly financed the Republican takeover of the state legislature. In 2012, Pope funded Pat McCrory’s successful gubernatorial campaign, which then gave the state GOP its first supermajority in over 100 years. McCrory returned the favor by making Art Pope his administration’s budget director.
North Carolina Republicans used their supermajority to implement a radical austerity-crazed agenda, which cut budgets for public schools and universities, healthcare, unemployment benefits, public housing, and environmental regulation. The GOP’s stated reason for the cuts was a lack of funding, after purposefully depriving state coffers of tax revenue by ramming through generous tax cuts for wealthy residents and corporations, at the expense of the state’s poorest residents.
“I call them extremists, I don’t call them Republicans,” said Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, in 2015. “I know good Republicans, and these people aren’t it… This extremist, Koch brother, tea party ideology is dangerous for the future.”
In a recent interview with Democracy Now, Rev. Barber outlined exactly how the Forward Together movement successfully organized a pushback against years of right-wing extremism that resulted in not only the defeat of Gov. McCrory, but multiple statewide office holders on November 8. Barber added that the last-minute special session to curb the new administration’s powers is a last-gasp effort to maintain control:
“[T]he Republican-led state Board of Elections put in place 158 less voting sites, early voting sites, than we had in 2014 and ’12. They lost the most—the worst voter suppression bill that they pushed, in the courts… They lost on redistricting… They lost the governor’s race, the secretary of state’s race, the auditor’s race, the attorney general’s race. And the Supreme Court became more progressive with an African American winning 76 of the 100 counties, and winning by over 300,000 votes.
“It’s a sign of things to come, when we organize in the South. And so, the governor and those extremists refused. They did everything they could… [B]ut when there is a movement of the people, a moral movement of the people, we can, in fact, change the South. And if you do that, you change the nation. And so, now, with these losses, they are now engaging in this extreme power grab and policy grab.”
For his part, Governor-elect Cooper — who is currently North Carolina’s Attorney General — has vowed to sue the legislature for passing any laws he deems unconstitutional.
“The courts will have to clean up the mess the legislature made, but it won’t stop us from moving North Carolina forward,” Cooper said in a public statement.
Neither Gov. McCrory, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, nor House Speaker Tim Moore were immediately available for comment on this story.
Governor-elect Cooper will assume the oath of office on January 1, 2017.
Zach Cartwright is an activist and author from Richmond, Virginia. He enjoys writing about politics, government, and the media. Send him an email at [email protected], and follow his work on the Public Banking Institute blog.