North Carolina Legislature Strips Governor’s Office Of Power In Wake Of Democratic Victory
In the wake of the Democratic victory in the North Carolina Governor's race, the Republican-controlled legislature has stripped the Governor's office of significant power.
North Carolina’s Republican legislature responded to the fact that fellow Republican Pat McCrory lost his re-election bid on Election Day by passing a bill that makes the Governor of North Carolina one of the least powerful in the country, and many people who supported Governor-Elect Roy Cooper are crying foul:
Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has signed a measure limiting the powers of his soon-to-be Democratic successor, Roy Cooper, a move critics are calling an unprecedented power grab orchestrated by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
The bill McCrory signed on Friday merges the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission into one entity comprised equally of Democrats and Republicans. Previous state law would have allowed Cooper to put a majority of Democrats on the board, which sets the rules for the state’s notoriously burdensome balloting.
The measure also makes elections for appellate court judgeships partisan by requiring candidates to be listed on the ballot alongside their political party.
Cooper said Friday he will challenge the move and has threatened to sue the legislature.
“Once more, 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 statement.
Protesters packed the halls of the General Assembly Friday as lawmakers voted on another bill that would require Senate confirmation for cabinet appointments. The state Senate voted to approve that measure Friday afternoon, sending it back to the state House for final consideration.
At least 16 people were arrested Friday, according to General Assembly police.
“They’ve decided now to go back and frustrate the will of the voters,” Rep. Larry Hall, a Democrat, said of the legislature’s action.
The series of measures were introduced in a surprise move Wednesday during a special session ostensibly called by the General Assembly to consider relief for Hurricane Matthew victims. Lawmakers did indeed approve a $201 million aid package earlier in the day, but then moved onto the legislation aimed at curbing the power of Cooper, who beat Republican McCrory last month by about 10,000 votes.
McCrory did not concede until last week — a full month after voters cast their ballots — following numerous failed attempts to lodge complaints about the election results. No evidence of widespread voting fraud ever came to light.
In his first national television interview since winning the gubernatorial contest, Cooper told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd Thursday that the legislature’s action was a “partisan power grab that goes far beyond political power.”
“What they are trying to do with these process changes is to limit my ability to want to raise teacher pay, to expand Medicaid,” Cooper said. “This is why people are mad, and this is why people don’t like government because of these kind of shenanigans.”
On Friday, Cooper left open the possibility of taking legal action.
Paul Waldman gives a good example of the reaction to all this from Democrats and other supporters of Governor-Elect Cooper:
The bills Republicans are pushing through the legislature would, among other things, cut the number of appointments the governor can make by 80 percent; make his cabinet appointments subject to state senate confirmation; transfer authority for the state board of education from the governor to the superintendent (a Republican ousted a Democrat this year in the election for that seat); move the authority to appoint trustees of the University of North Carolina from the governor to the legislature; and dilute the governor’s control over the state board of elections and mandate that the board will be chaired by a Democrat in odd-numbered years (when there are no elections) and a Republican in even-numbered years (when there are elections).
And they’re barely bothering to pretend that if a Republican governor is elected in four years they won’t just reverse most or all of these changes.
This isn’t just hardball politics. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic approach to government, one that says that when we win, we get to implement our agenda, and when you win, you don’t.
To put this in context, perhaps nowhere in the country have Republicans moved more aggressively to solidify power by disenfranchising their opponents as they have in North Carolina. Immediately after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Republicans enacted a voter suppression law that “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision,” in the words of the appeals court that later struck it down. The district lines already give the Republicans an enormous advantage: In 2016, Republicans outpolled Democrats in North Carolina congressional races by a margin of only 53-47, yet they held 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats.
The situation in the state house is similar: In this closely divided swing state, Republicans enjoy supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature because of aggressively gerrymandered legislative districts that pack African-Americans together in order to dilute their power. The districts were declared unconstitutional by a federal court earlier this year, and the state has been ordered to redraw them and hold special elections next year. But in the meantime, in this year’s election Republicans won 56 percent of votes to the state senate, yet controlled 35 of the chamber’s 50 seats. In the state house the results were similar: Republicans won 53 percent of the votes, yet hold 74 of the 120 seats.
I find myself of two minds about what’s going on here.
On the one hand, Waldman and the critics of the North Carolina legislature are right that this is a purely political action that wouldn’t be happening if the election had turned out differently. If McCrory had won re-election, the Republican legislature would not be stripping his office of power and would not have called a Special Session in order to do so. The moves are obviously intended to restrict the power of the newly-elected Democratic Governor and enhance the power of the Republican-controlled legislature in a state that has teetered between Red and Blue ever since Barack Obama narrowly won the state in the 2008 Presidential election. In that sense, it’s yet another example of the kind of cynical, dirty politics that has become all too common in the United States today. Additionally, it’s easy to see how the people who voted for Cooper would be outraged by this since it seems like, and probably is, a blatant attempt to undercut the meaning of their vote in November.
At the same time, I must admit that I don’t like the idea of Executives, be they Governors or Presidents, with too much power in their hands. At both the state and Federal level we’ve seen what can happen when the Executive Branch becomes too powerful, and the idea that the legislature in Raleigh acted to limit the power of the Governor by taking back some of the powers it had granted over the years and arguably handing power back over to the people via their representatives in the legislative branch is an appealing one. Indeed, we could stand to see the powers of the Imperial Presidency curtailed if Congress had the fortitude to do what the Constitution permits and expects it to do. Instead, what we’ve generally seen at the Federal level is a Congress that has generally become complicit in the Executive Branch’s assumption of new and greater power, whether through Executive Orders and similar measures or regulatory action that involves unelected bureaucrats making decisions that arguably should be the proper province of the elected representatives of the people. The only time there is pushback to any of those efforts, it is typically only during times when Congress and the Presidency are controlled by different parties, a fact which makes the coming era of Republican control of Congress while a man like Donald Trump sits in the White House troubling to say the least.
There’s some talk of legal action challenging what the North Carolina legislature did in the wake of Cooper’s victory, including from Cooper himself. While I am admittedly no expert in North Carolina law, it seems as though the legislature was acting well within its purview under the State Constitution when it undertook these actions, and that it’s going to be next to impossible for Cooper to overturn or repeal any of the changes that were made to the Governor’s office during this Special Session. At the very least, though, it portends a rocky relationship between the two elected branches of state government in Raleigh, which should make the next four years interesting to say the least.
There is no ‘on the one hand’ here, Doug. This is clearly wrong.
The people of North Carolina elected a governor on the assumption that he would be able to act as governor. Republicans have yet again set aside the clear will of the people and instead chosen to follow the path of racism, misogyny and bigotry. Republicans are stealing the governorship from the voters, overriding the decision of the people.
This is yet more proof, as if more were needed, that Republicans are not a small ‘d’ democratic political party, nor are they ‘conservative.’ They are interested in nothing but acquiring power to force an increasingly fascistic ideology on American citizens.
Agree with Michael, this is unpresidented and un-American.
This would be the case if the legislature was representative. But North Carolina is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country (e.g. the infamous 12th district), which has resulted in a completely unrepresentative legislature.
Michael Reynolds has it. This is simply wrong.
They also elected a state legislature in the same election, which Republicans won overwhelmingly in addition to winning the U.S. Senate election and the Presidential election.
Like I said, the blatant politics of this maneuver is apparent and it’s quite cynical to say the least. But it’s not illegal and, given that the legislature has as much of a claim at being representatives of the people as the Governor, I’m not sure of its impropriety. Especially since it is generally better to have power in the hands of the Legislative branch than the Executive.
Also, I doubt people like Waldman would be complaining if the shoe were on the other foot and it was a Democratic legislature seeking to curtail the power of a Republican Governor.
As conservative as I am, I am against this. I can’t be a hypocrite since I was spitting hot when the Annapolis City Council tried to do this against the newly elected Mayor of Annapolis a couple years ago because he happened to be a Republican. It seemed like a blatant move to make the new mayor irrelevant. This is no different here in North Carolina. I hope it gets defeated in court because it sets a dangerous precedent for future parties to overturn the will of the voters.
As I said I don’t see any basis for a Court to overturn what the legislature did.
Of course it’s wrong. But a certain B Obama hasn’t been shy in exercising his will unilaterally, cheered on by the Reynolds of the world. This is what you get when its power at all costs, a concept not strange to the Democrats. At least the Democrats aren’t fishing around for anything possible to invalidate the presidential election (snicker).
Seems that the shattering of norms that the Republicans did at the federal level has trickled down to the state level.
Ah well, hope the Fourth Circuit finds a way to reverse this. One small candle: The Fourth Circuit did order new elections based on new redistricting that aren’t gerrymandered. That might result in a legislature that can change these laws.
Up until 2004, Senate vacancies in Massachusetts were filled by gubernatorial appointment, like most states. But then John Kerry ran for VP, creating the possibility that Republican governor Mitt Romney would get to choose the successor. The state legislature leapt into action and changed the law so that the position would remain vacant until a special election. A mere five years later, the governor was once again a Democrat, but now there was a danger of Senator Ted Kennedy dying in office. Once again the state legislature leapt into action to restor the Governor’s ability to appoint a replacement.
You will all no doubt remember how outraged the commenters on this site were about this undemocratic behavior. Because they’re totally outraged about this on principle and not because their views change one minute to another based on what’s currently in the interests of the Democratic party.
Or, to put it differently, how would the people condemning North Carolina’s legislature feel if a lame duck Congress controlled by Democrats acted to curtail the extra-constitutional powers that Congress has given the Presidency in anticipation of a President Trump?
Honestly, I don’t think the Democrats would do that and I think it quite likely that if they did so it would be condemned by many liberals.
@Stormy Dragon: @Doug Mataconis:
Had I known about it, of course I would have condemned it.
But the crimes of others do not constitute a defense of subsequent crimes. Precedent is not established by one person’s bad behavior.
Congress’s willing to be “complicit in the Executive Branch’s assumption of new and greater power,” is on a sliding, partisan scale.
A Republican-controlled Congress isn’t going to “check” or “balance” a Republican-controlled Executive branch anymore than a Democrat-controlled Congress is going to check a Democrat-controlled Executive branch.
Most people’s revealed preference is to just win and get their way without checks and balances.
At what point will our new Supreme Leader and the Loyal Party of America just outright choose to make the Democratic Party illegal ?
This death-by-a-thousand-cuts today is just unnecessary, on Jan 21st, they should take unilateral action, and call for a constitutional convention.
The south has risen again.
(yes, it is sarcasm, unless I was a poster on Brietbart, then not so much.)
This – North Carolina – is exactly why Democrats have to grow a spine and treat Republicans as the super fund site cockroaches that they clearly and very demonstrably are.
@Doug Mataconis: Yah, but you’re not on the same team as Reynolds and the others, so…
About half of the provisions they enacted are status quo in the state in which I reside, so while I do see that this is a political move and see how it changes things in NC, as policy, I can’t get very exercised about it. As to the politics of it, we’re going to see more of the same as our system and society become more polarized and bifurcated. Sorry, but until we decide as citizens to put citizenship first, the run toward dissolution will continue.
@Guarneri: And Citizen Drew reinforces just what I said. “We’re in power now, so it’s our turn to stick it to you guys. So there! Suck it up!” Sad. Pathetic.
It certainly is interesting to learn that Democrats play only by Marquess of Queensberry rules.
@michael reynolds: Sorry Mikey, but this is what you get after you guys “weaponized” the government to go after Republicans, Christians and Tea Party advocates.
How does it feel?
@john430: Hey, he’s Michael. I’m Mikey.
And it feels like you’re making shit up, because the Democrats did no such thing. You’re just spouting right-wing Political Correctness.
But hey, we know you guys need a healthy persecution complex just to motivate yourselves to get out of bed in the morning, so just keep on with yo’ bad self. We love you anyway.
What are you talking about? The IRS not rubber-stamping a 501C for mouthpiece with “Tea Party” in the name?
I mean….no offense, but if the left had even a thimble of the temerity and audaciousness of the right, you would need to carry your hanky on your face. You’re lucky Democrats are as self-righteous as they are stupid and weak.
@Doug Mataconis: there’s a difference between what is legally permitted, and what is the right thing to do. There are noise ordinances that disallow loud noises after 10pm — this does not mean that you should be blasting ear splitting screeches up until 9:59pm (or 10:07pm, knowing that the police aren’t going to press charges over seven minutes).
I want stable, predictable government. I would be opposed to limiting the power of the governors office in my state if a Republican won (as they always threaten to do). I’m opposed to blatant political gerrymandering, and I don’t see this as any different in its intent to thwart the will of the people with the consequences of destroying the system.
I also reject the notion that power is always better in the hands of the legislature than the executive.
(I really do like the board of elections being evenly split with Republicans and Democrats taking turns chairing, with Republicans getting the election years and Democrats getting the off years. It’s beautifully cheeky)
Republican Politicians Have Bad Values, Act Shitty. Film at 11.
It is worth noting that this was done in a lame duck session by the outgoing legislature. If the members of the legislature had campaigned on this, were then elected, and moved to pass such legislation in January, you would have a point.
Instead, we see here an outgoing legislature and governor curtailing the incoming government. There are not direct electoral consequence or responsibility for these actions.
@Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:
That’s all Drew has ever had. His entire interest in politics is, “what do I get?” Greed, racism and spite.
What Drew et al are too stupid to realize is that they are now on the defense, justifying their support for an absolutely corrupt, completely dishonest, incoherent, incompetent and illiterate clown who will be running the administration from inside Putin’s colon.
They’re desperate not to talk about anything but, “We won!” because despite their denials they already sense the error they made. In their shriveled little hearts they know. You can see it in what they don’t say. When we talk Putin the Trumpettes disappear. And I have yet to see one of them talking about how great things will be with the orange cretin in charge. All they’ve got is spite. They think they get four years of going, “Nah nah, we won.”
Trumpettes: your president is the tool of a KGB thug and he’s going to spend the next four years ignoring the clueless nitwits who voted him in, and lining his own pockets.
We are in fact unpresidented, we are instead, beclowned.
@Steven L. Taylor:
As I said, the politics of all this were especially cynical, but such is the product of the age we will in.
That being said, there was almost no change in either the N.C. House of Representatives or Senate on Election Day. One seat changed hands in each chamber, so it’s not like we’re talking about major change in January in any case.
My advice for North Carolinians who are upset by this is to vote accordingly in 2018 when the next legislative elections are held.
I reject the “these are the times we live in” arguments. We can do better than that, as a people, and we have done so for most of the past 200 years.
It’s also not cynicism to behave this way — its greedy, opportunistic and spiteful. It’s cynical to assume that this is how people normally behave.
Predicated on some of the most gerrymandered districts to be found anywhere. In fact, they’re so gerrymandered that a federal court threw them out and is forcing the state to hold special elections in 2017. You’re not this naive.
You obviously haven’t paid attention to politics for very long, partisanship, backstabbing, and “dirty” “negative” campaigns are as old as the nation itself.
@michael reynolds: This is where your take and my take differ. They may know what they did, but they don’t give a shirt. They are fully prepared to advocate for burning the country to the ground as long as they get to control what happens to the ashes. HL92, with his destroy the viability of the EC ploy, is their mirror image. He doesn’t care what happens anymore, he just wants to tear things down.
He will do well in Paris. There is a saying: “Le Francais sont les anarchistes du monde.”
Actually, that will be 2017 when they hold a special election based on redrawn districts, as ordered by the court.
@Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:
That’s where you’re incorrect. He never does anything without a plan and a specific goal in mind. The system itself is broken – the EC system can’t be preserved and it can’t be reformed; it can only be replaced. We’ve replaced every other “throwback compromise intended to placate slaveowners” measure enshrined in the Constitution – and none of those replacements were achieved peacefully – so why not this last one?
The only way to fix it is to blow it up. If you want to make an omelet …
Assuming that order is upheld on appeal, yes.
In either case, the matter will be in the hands of the voters where it belongs.
There is something crucial in O’s case that makes all the difference: at any time the federal legislative branch could have overruled many of O’s administrative decisions simply by… legislating. Sure, they would have had to compromise and round up votes and make some tough decisions, you know, legislate. But as I’ve said probably too many times, the modern Republican party can no longer govern, they can only oppose. In the past 10-15 years any Republican who has attempted to govern has been driven from office. The modern membership literally cannot be for anything, only against. Obama has never taken power away from congress – they have joyfully given that power to him by refusing to act on their own.
Think about it for a minute: the Republicans have been willing to have Obama enact policies that they label as all but national suicide rather than sit down with a couple of dozen democrats on the house side and 3-4 in the Senate and hammer out a deal. They would rather lose 100% than get 95% of what they want and risk being branded insufficiently pure.
@Doug Mataconis: This is a different level of destructiveness and self-interest than we have seen before, except around the installation of Jim Crow laws, and right before the civil war.
We’ve had messy moments, but generally parties and individuals have placed the needs of the country ahead of their own. For most of our history we have had two governing parties (one in the majority and one in the minority) rather than a governing party and an opposition party.
I’m not naive enough to think that it’s been all roses up until now, but hopeful enough to believe that we don’t have to accept our worst impulses as normal.
If we accept that anything allowed is legitimate, then what stops Obama from declaring Trump an enemy combatant, and hauling his ass off to Guantanamo? Might Trump resist? How hard is it to convict a law enforcement officer of anything? The Republicans whittled away at all the due process, so it would certainly be an open question legally (I have faith that the Supreme Court would say that the administration overstepped their bounds, but that would be too late). If Trump were to set foot outside this country before inaugeration, could Obama have him kidnapped abroad and sent to one of our allies for interrogation/torture?
As long as we’re going down that “anything you can rationalize by saying the others guys do it t0o” road, the only thing really blocking him from having the guy assassinated is three executive orders Obama could rescind (or ignore) at will.
One point to deflate the hysteria here: this is not unprecedented. The Democrats did the same thing to Jim Martin back in ’87. North Carolina’s legislature has a lot of power compared to other legislatures and they have decided to take some of that back now that the governor’s mansion is in the hands of the other party. If the Democrats were to take the House in 2018, I would expect them to do the same to limit Trump’s power.
While I don’t agree with what they’re doing — it crosses me as an ad-hoc response to losing an election — I’m also not seeing the case that it’s SO EXTREME for the legislature to, for example, require approval of cabinet appointments.
I haven’t read all the comments or info here, but it seems like the powers of the branches of the government are better off enshrined in some sort of ‘constitution,’ if you will. Rather than having one of the branches changing the rules on the fly.
Thinking about this some more in the car:
I disagree with what the Republicans are doing here. However, describing it as a coup is a bit much. It’s neither illegal nor unprecedented.
However, the idea that this makes the Republicans somehow objectively worse than the Democrats is a bit much. First of all, the Democrats play dirty politics all the time with nary a peep out of the peanut gallery. Stormy mentioned the games they played with the Massachusetts Senate Seat. They also gerrymandered Maryland to get rid of the state’s only Republican. The changed California’s primaries to make sure big state races were between two Democrats. They spent millions funding a recall election against Scott Walker. They used the filibuster to block Bush’s appointments, then nuked it once Obama was in power. They stood around like pot plants while Obama expanded executive power, even to the point where SCOTUS unanimously smacked down his “recess” appointments. They passed Obamacare through reconciliation. This is just off the top of my head. And yes, I know the Republicans do all that stuff too and it’s awful when they do it too.
The only reason they aren’t doing it as often as the Republicans is because they can’t. They don’t have enough legislatures or Congressional seats. But they will when they get power back. And when they do, I expect the usual excuse-making (or, more likely, covering of eyes).
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the South where Democrats did this sort of garbage all the time. Maybe it’s because I remember the Congressional Democrats trying to usurp Reagan’s power on foreign policy (e.g, “Dear Commandante”). This is what politics is. It’s what it always has been. It’s why I don’t like giving power to these people.
(Cue standard response of “How DARE you say both sides do it! It’s cute when my side does it!”)
This is in-presidented.
We can only hope that, at some stage, Donald Trump is, in fact, unpresidented.
Lots of “politics as usual” hand-waving going on here, and special pleading that arbitrary districting and legislative tricks matter more than, y’know, elections…
Once again the “party of responsibility” evades all of it…
But according to Doug, destruction of democratic norms is either the “will of the people” and/or “politics as usual, open a history book lol.” It changes day to day. There’s always an excuse for court-packing and election nullification.
This is one of the most appalling and blatant abuses of the legislative process I’ve ever seen. There are ways to do this that would have been more palatable, for example as Steven points out, if the legislature had run on a platform of reducing executive power, been elected, and THEN done this.
Simply wanting a less powerful executive branch does not excuse this behavior in any way. I’m disappointed that excuse is being trotted out.
Hard to get 95% of what you want when the only thing you want is to be 100% in charge. A party has to have ideas in order to be able to reach compromises. Where are the ideas? They’ve been talking about them for 8 years; maybe we’ll get to see some of them now, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.
“Simply wanting a less powerful executive branch does not excuse this behavior in any way. I’m disappointed that excuse is being trotted out.”
I agree. To me, this shows the futility of expecting both parties to denounce a power grab. The members of the party doing the grabbing will be too willing to go along for the sake of partisan gains and avoiding a primary fight to oppose it.