Republicans in North Carolina are grabbing all the power they can this week before Democrat Roy Cooper takes over as governor. They might regret it, according to one powerful ally.
With weeks to go before a Democrat sits atop a government mostly controlled by Republicans, the GOP leadership of the state legislature is pushing through a massive overhaul of the way the state government works that mainly focuses on reduces the power the Democratic elected officials like Cooper will have when they’re sworn in next month.
In effect, the proposals take power away from the governor and add it to the Republican-controlled legislature and take power away from the newly Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court and transfer it to the state Court of Appeals, which is controlled by Republicans.
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Elections are also fully overhauled in the scheme. Current law says majority membership on three-member county boards of elections and the five-member state board of elections goes to the party of the governor, with Cooper slated to appoint the membership. The Republican plan keeps Democrats from taking control of election monitoring by converting boards to equal numbers of members of both parties.
Republican legislators acted fast on their plans, calling an emergency special session Wednesday, dropping their legislation on the laps of bewildered Democratic lawmakers Wednesday night, and rushing through passage Thursday while throngs of protesters screamed from the galleries (they were removed and some were arrested.)
Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both houses of the legislature and, for a few more weeks at least, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. So they can pass their government changes without much trouble.
The question is, should they? One prominent North Carolina conservative told VICE News that Republicans in the North Carolina legislature may wish they had slowed their roll.
“These are significant changes to the government of the state,” said John Hood, president of the John William Pope foundation, the grant-making arm of the policy empire controlled by North Carolina Republican megadonor — and top McCrory backer — Art Pope. “It would have been better to provide more time.”
Hood is a longtime conservative commentator and far more often than not, a staunch ally of North Carolina Republican lawmakers. He’s backed them in a number of controversies during the McCrory era. And he’s not concerned especially about the changes Republicans are proposing this time.
The scope of the proposals and the pace Republicans are moving them into law are what worry him. “The concern about it being done quickly is a legitimate concern,” Hood said.
The Republican proposals were moved through the normal process of hearings, committees and amendments. They were presented lock, stock and barrel by GOP leaders and zipped through the legislative chamber before some Democrats said they had a chance to fully analyze the nearly 100 pages of legislation.
Hood isn’t calling for regular order because he is a parliamentary procedure nerd. He points to moments in the past that Democrats, who controlled the state legislature for most of the post-Civil War era until 2011, took legislative steps to correct election results they didn’t like that ended up blowing up in their faces.
A case in point, according to Hood: in 2002, Democrats stripped the partisan label away from state Supreme Court candidates after a series of elections where they could not win a majority on the state’s highest court. That meant that in the 2006 and 2008 wave elections, when the party did really well on the rest of the state ballot, Democrats couldn’t easily push voters toward their preferred judicial candidates.
Republicans are putting the partisan line back on state Supreme Court candidates in the new package of legislation announced this week.
The huge, sweeping legislation pushed through by Republicans change a lot of things in the government — including some things Hood said Republicans could have done with Cooper and others that Republicans might wish they hadn’t done down the road.
Instead of trying to work inside the divided government voters handed them, Republicans are trying to change it. Democrats have done similar things when they were in charge — though not on this scale as North Carolina Democrats vowing to go to court Thursday said more than once.
It doesn’t help create a functional government in North Carolina, Hood said. Rather, it continues “a cycle that harms our discourse in the long run.”