N.C.’s GOP trims power from in­com­ing Dem guv

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Gary D. Robert­son and Meg Kinnard

raleigh, n.c.» Repub­li­can law­mak­ers in North Carolina on Fri­day stripped the in­com­ing Demo­cratic gov­er­nor of some of his au­thor­ity and were on the cusp of an even greater power grab, an ex­tra­or­di­nary move that crit­ics said flies in the face of vot­ers.

Just last week, it ap­peared Repub­li­cans were ready to fi­nally ac­cept Democrats’ nar­row win in a con­tentious gov­er­nor’s race. As it turns out, they weren’t done fight­ing. In a sur­prise spe­cial ses­sion in the dy­ing days of the old ad­min­is­tra­tion, some say the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated leg­is­la­ture has thrown the govern­ment into to­tal dis­ar­ray, ap­prov­ing two bills aimed at emas­cu­lat­ing in­com­ing Gov. Roy Cooper’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. One of them was signed into law by the cur­rent gov­er­nor.

Cooper, the cur­rent at­tor­ney gen­eral, has threat­ened to sue. And many in the state are ac­cus­ing Repub­li­cans of let­ting sour grapes over los­ing the gov­er­nor’s man­sion turn into a leg­isla­tive coup.

“This was a pure power grab,” said re­tired school li­brar­ian Carolyn White, 62, a long­time demon­stra­tor who was ar­rested as part of the “Mo­ral Mon­day” protests against GOP-led leg­isla­tive poli­cies. “I got ar­rested two years ago. Did it make any dif­fer­ence? No. But just like the civil rights move­ment, it’s for­ward to­gether. You just have to keep go­ing for­ward.”

The pro­test­ers were so loud that Se­nate and House cleared the gal­leries — a highly un­usual move. More than 50 peo­ple were ar­rested this week, and as demon­stra­tors were led away from the Leg­isla­tive Build­ing, some chanted “all po­lit­i­cal power comes from the peo­ple.” Those that re­mained be­hind could only watch the de­bate through glass win­dows or lis­ten to it on­line.

Hun­dreds stomped their feet and yelled out­side the gallery, caus­ing sev­eral Repub­li­can law­mak­ers to note they were hav­ing trou­ble hear­ing dur­ing the de­bate. Democrats re­peat­edly stated their ob­jec­tions.

Repub­li­can Gov. Pat McCrory, who lost to Cooper by about 10,000 votes, quickly signed into law a bill that merges the State Board of Elec­tions and State Ethics Com­mis­sion into one board com­prised equally of Democrats and Repub­li­cans. The pre­vi­ous state elec­tions board law would have al­lowed Cooper to put a ma­jor­ity of Democrats on the elec­tions panel.

The law would also make elec­tions for ap­pel­late court judge­ships par­ti­san again.

An­other bill that re­ceived fi­nal leg­isla­tive ap­proval would force Cooper’s Cab­i­net choices to be sub­ject to Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. Be­fore ad­journ­ing, law­mak­ers con­firmed a salaried ap­point­ment to the state In­dus­trial Com­mis­sion for the wife of McCrory’s chief of staff. McCrory nom­i­nated her.

McCrory must de­cide whether to sign the sec­ond law passed by the Gen­eral Assembly, which has re­peat­edly tugged him to the right even though he cam­paigned as a mod­er­ate in 2012 as Char­lotte’s for­mer mayor.

Repub­li­cans in­sist the leg­is­la­tion is sim­ply ad­just­ing the con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers al­ready granted to the Gen­eral Assembly. Many pro­vi­sions had been de­bated for years but had got­ten blocked or the Demo­cratic view­point pre­vi­ously won out. Democrats said it was an at­tempt by the GOP to cling to power.

Repub­li­cans gained power of both leg­isla­tive cham­bers in 2010 for the first time in more than a cen­tury, and they have veto-proof ma­jori­ties, hold­ing 108 of 170 seats even though the state has been more closely di­vided in re­cent statewide and fed­eral elec­tions.

GOP leg­is­la­tors have been able to ex­pand their ma­jori­ties thanks to ap­prov­ing re­dis­trict­ing maps in 2011. But nearly 30 of those leg­isla­tive dis­tricts were struck down last sum­mer. A fed­eral court has di­rected up­dated maps be ap­proved by March 15.

Cooper ran on a plat­form of de­feat­ing Repub­li­cans’ agenda, say­ing he would work to re­peal a law known as House Bill 2 that lim­its LGBT rights. “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.

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