North Carolina Republicans Are Grabbing Power As Fast As They Can

As he is dragged kicking and screaming from office, GOP governor Pat McCrory is signing bills shifting some of his own office’s power to the legislature. Photo: Travis Long/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty Images

In an act that falls somewhere between ruthlessness and hubris, North Carolina Republicans are in the process of executing what critics are calling a “power grab” by exploiting a special legislative session supposedly called to work on disaster relief to pass legislation significantly diminishing the powers of incoming Democratic governor Roy Cooper. Outgoing governor Pat McCrory, whom Cooper defeated on November 8 (an outcome bitterly contested by McCrory for nearly a month), is signing bills as quickly as the legislators can pass them.

The package, if fully, enacted would reduce the power of the governor’s party over state and county election boards (in a state where election laws and their administration have been used as a sharp party weapon by Republicans); require state senate confirmation of the governor’s cabinet appointments; make certain nonpartisan judicial positions partisan; and greatly reduce the number of state agency employees who serve at the pleasure of the governor. This last provision is more than a bit ironic given the GOP’s usual hostility to rules protecting “career bureaucrats.”

Cooper says he will sue to overturn some or all of the power grab. But the real accountability may come next fall, when legislators will face a federal court-ordered special election because the redistricting plan Republicans imposed was earlier ruled an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Cooper and other Democrats are already planning to make the power grab and the use of an earlier special session to enact the infamous H.B. 2 “transgender bathroom” law as reasons for throwing the Republicans out.

You have to wonder why Tar Heel GOPers are running the risk of exposing themselves to the charge of arrogance, secrecy (they gave no notice the power grab was coming until it arrived), and extreme partisan malice. With supermajorities in both legislative chambers, they pretty much had Cooper fenced in. Now those supermajorities could be imperiled before they’ve had much opportunity to enjoy the new power they grabbed.

North Carolina Republicans Grabbing Power With Both Hands