NORTH CAROLINA is the country’s 28th largest state, its ninth most-populous and 40th richest. But in one category it may yet place first, if legislators get their way: most anti-democratic. Republican lawmakers in Raleigh are holding a special session they frantically called after a Democrat was elected governor. Their logic appears to be that, if Republicans cannot win, they will change the rules.
By now, this is familiar behavior from among the most irresponsible state governments in the nation. Once the state GOP took control of the legislature, lawmakers crammed through a breathtakingly partisan redistricting map — to help both themselves and Republican congressional candidates. North Carolina is a purplish state, but the GOP controls 10 of its 13 congressional districts. The legislature also passed perhaps the most cynical anti-voting law in the country, which included not just unneeded voter ID requirements, but also an end to same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting and a sharp reduction in early voting. A federal court panel found that the law illegally targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
The GOP’s efforts may have resulted in a skewed legislative map, but they could not save Gov. Pat McCrory (R) from losing his reelection bid last month, in part due to voter backlash against another of the General Assembly’s bad ideas, North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill.” Now, with state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) about to become governor, the legislature, which will stay securely in GOP hands, is rushing through consideration of a variety of measures that would hobble gubernatorial power.
Lawmakers have proposed requiring various gubernatorial appointments to be confirmed by the Senate, a big break with current practice; reducing the governor’s control of election boards; and curbing the governor’s ability to select people for state education panels. Republicans also lost their majority on the state Supreme Court, so they are proposing a larger role for the GOP-controlled state appeals court.
One of their most brazen proposals would reduce the number of executive-branch staffers that the governor can hire or fire at will from 1,500 to 300. During Mr. McCrory’s tenure, the legislature expanded the number of such employees. Now that the outgoing Republican governor’s people are in place, the legislature is attempting to prevent Mr. Cooper from staffing his administration with people who share his policy priorities. The office of Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) provided this defense: “Why does it make sense to enable the mass political firing of people who have been doing a wonderful job for the state?” Indeed: Why have elections at all?
North Carolina Republicans should accept that they lost and end this graceless power grab.