Speed Reads

Special sessions

North Carolina's GOP legislature moves to strip power from incoming Democratic governor

On Wednesday afternoon, the Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature called a surprise fourth special session, just after finishing a third special session to approve $200 million in disaster relief. By Wednesday night, Republicans had filed a raft of bills that would significantly curb the power of incoming Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who narrowly defeated Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in November; McCrory finally conceded the race last week, and Cooper doesn't take office until Jan. 1, 2017. Democrats did not know about the new special session, approved Monday, until noon on Wednesday.

The GOP bills would end the governor's control over state and county election boards, require State Senate confirmation of Cooper's Cabinet appointees, strip him of authority to name trustees to the University of North Carolina, and cut to 300 from 1,500 the number of state employees who serve at the governor's pleasure, giving protection to hundreds of upper-level state employees appointed by McCrory, reversing an expansion McCrory approved right after he took over from his Democratic predecessor. Many of the election boards that would now have a bipartisan spilt had cut voting hours, polling locations, and Sunday voting when controlled by Republicans, measures all criticized as aiming to suppress black turnout.

Democrats had expressed concern that the GOP legislature would try to add two Republican justices to the Supreme Court, which flipped to a Democratic majority in the election, but instead Republicans filed a bill that would shift power from the Supreme Court to the GOP-majority Court of Appeals. "This is an unprecedented, shameful, and cowardly power grab from the Republicans," Jamal Little, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said of the GOP bills. Cooper was more restrained, urging lawmakers to, among other things, repeal HB 2, the transgender "bathroom" bill.

Republicans did not exactly deny the power-grabbing accusation. "I think, to be candid with you, that you will see the General Assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the executive branch," Rep. David Lewis (R) told reporters, adding that "some of the stuff we're doing, obviously if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on." Republican legislators, he added, will "work to establish that we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing the state."