On Wednesday, Dec. 14 the North Carolina General Assembly – which is held by a Republican majority – held a special session to pass sweeping bills aimed at limiting Governor Elect Roy Cooper (D)’s power.
After passing a disaster relief bill on Wednesday, Dec. 14, Republican lawmakers called a special session later with only hours’ notice. This session introduced numerous bills that severely restrict governor powers, shifting them to the majority-Republican side.
Among the bills’ impacts are reducing the number of governor-appointable state employees from 1,500 to 425, eliminating the ability to appoint members to UNC school boards, ending control over election board appointments, and requiring Senate approval of governor cabinet members.
Many of these constricted powers are ones that were expanded under Governor Pat McCrory (R). Under McCrory, appointment-based state employees were expanded from 500 to 1500.
Also among the affected are NC election boards – which select polling places, settle voting disputes, and set hours, among other duties. These were formerly afforded a majority in favor of the governor’s party, but will now be bipartisan, effectively deadlocking them.
This session follows current’s concession after a contentious month of ballot recounts, during which McCrory implied fraudulent voting in the state and refused to concede.
The move was swiftly condemned by state Democrats, who consider the session a subversion of voter will.
“This is an unprecedented, shameful and cowardly power grab from the Republicans,’’ NC Democratic Party Spokesman Jamal Little said, as quoted in a New York Times article.. “After losing the governor’s office, the GOP-controlled General Assembly is attempting to hold on to power that voters took away from them.”
Cooper expressed disapproval at the move, saying that the partisan maneuvering by Republicans was harmful and misguided.
“#NCGA should focus on higher teacher pay, better wages for working North Carolinians and repealing HB 2,” Cooper tweeted.
Republicans claimed that the moves had been discussed and intended before the election, with Cooper’s election only accelerating them. They also drew similarities with similar slights stated to have been received during Democratic-controlled legislature.
“You will see the General Assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the executive branch,” House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. David Lewis (R) said in a Wednesday press conference.
Democrats expressed doubts regarding that position, painting the session as a planned preemptive attack against Cooper. They also contradicted Republicans on precedence, stating that the bills exceeded past Democratic grabs.
“Sure, the Democrats don’t have clean hands, but this is beyond anything I’ve seen them do,” Common Cause North Carolina Executive Director Bob Phillips said, as quoted in a NY Times article. “I think we’re in unprecedented, uncharted territory with this.”
One major bills affecting State Board of Elections appointments was signed by McCrory into law on Friday, Dec. 16. He later signed a second legislation that affects state board of education control, political appointees, and other governor powers that McCrory had during his term.
Protestors were present on the day of and following the session, demanding that Republican elected officials respect the will of the people through the election. Several being arrested and escorted out of the building for not clearing the viewing gallery. Others risked arrest by knocking on closed gallery doors.
“I believe fervently in democracy. I’m watching it be undermined right beneath by people who seem unwilling to consider or to listen,” protester Margaret Toman of Garner, NC said, as quotes in a Fox News article.
Cooper threatened legal action against the new Republican legislation, considering it an overreach into governor authority. Despite this, he expressed confidence in North Carolina’s future.
“Once more, the courts will have to clean up the mess the legislature made,” Cooper said in a later tweet, “but it won’t stop us from moving North Carolina forward.”