USA Politics First Look

N.C. Republican lawmakers scramble to weaken incoming governor's power

Democrats criticized the special session, saying Republicans did not notify them that it was happening until noon Wednesday – two hours before the session began.

North Carolina Gov.-elect Roy Cooper speaks to a crowd of supporters a day after his opponent, incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, conceded the election in Raleigh, N.C., on Dec. 6, 2016.
Ben McKeown/AP | Caption

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina convened a special session on Wednesday to consider proposals that could limit the governor's power weeks before Democrat Roy Cooper is slated to take office.

The state legislators are no stranger to the national spotlight, especially after passing the state's contentious "bathroom bill" last spring to limit LGBT protections and require transgender people to use only those public restrooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the measure into law, eliciting protests on the national level that bolstered Mr. Cooper's campaign when he vowed to repeal the measure.

After a prolonged challenge to the election results, Mr. McCrory conceded earlier this month. Now, Republicans have responded by convening a special session that aims to weaken the governor's office in light of their party's loss.

"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," House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis told reporters Wednesday, as The News & Observer reported. The state's legislators, he added, will "work to establish that we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing this state."

One measure under consideration would require Senate confirmation of Cooper's cabinet selections and would dramatically decrease the number of at-will political appointees Cooper would be authorized to hire. Another measure – one of two dozen filed Wednesday night by Republicans and Democrats – would merge the State Board of Elections with the State Ethics Commission.

"Some of the stuff we’re doing, obviously if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on," Representative Lewis added, "but a lot of this stuff would have been done anyway and has been talked about for quite some time."

Democrats protested that they were not notified until noon Wednesday of the special session that began at 2 p.m., after three-fifths of the legislators in both chambers signed a petition. And that petition was dated Monday, prompting complaints that Republicans knew about the session for two days but gave Democrats only two hours' notice, as The News & Observer reported.

"This ain't right," House Democratic Leader Larry Hall said. "You can't make it right. The people of North Carolina aren't being treated right. We owe them more."

In many ways, North Carolina politics serve as a microcosm of the issues this year's election season brought to the foreground nationwide, as The Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson wrote in October, including some conservatives' desire for "payback" after previous Democratic administrations.

"North Carolina is a microcosm of the divisions in the US electorate, but on steroids: The gap between white voters with and without college degrees is huge, the white to nonwhite gap is huge, and the rural-urban gap is huge," Steven Greene, a political scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, told the Monitor. 

Cooper has said he will push an agenda as governor that includes higher pay for teachers and state employees, efforts to make law enforcement "strong and fair," and measures to protect women's rights.

"Regardless of whether you voted for me," Cooper told a crowd during his belated victory party on Dec. 6, "I will be a governor who works for everyone."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.