North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed one of two measures adopted by Republican allies in a lightning-quick special legislative session that strips the powers of his Democratic successor, in an extraordinary move that critics said usurped the will of the voters.
McCrory signed a measure Friday that would limit the incoming governor’s control of the state election board after it was swiftly approved by the Republican-controlled legislature. Another measure that would require the state Senate to confirm his Cabinet appointments is still pending.
The measures were approved amid a third day of protests at the state legislature in Raleigh after the surprise special session was called. At least 20 people were arrested during the demonstrations, including a reporter trying to document the police action after the public galleries in both legislative chambers were cleared.
Cooper, the state’s attorney general, and other Democrats have threatened to block the Republican attempts to curb his authority in court. The North Carolina Democratic Party called it a “shameful and cowardly power grab” by Republicans after McCrory’s election defeat.
Republicans cast it as a simple matter of checks-and-balances. Republican state Rep. Jeff Collins told the Raleigh News & Observer the current power balance in state government is “way out of kilter.”
“They don’t get to see the governor pumping gas in Rocky Mount,” he told the newspaper. “Our legislators are the closest state officials to the electorate. I think anything we can do to balance the scales back in that direction is a good move.”
The uproar in North Carolina bears a striking resemblance to a smaller-scale move in Georgia. Shortly after taking control of the state Senate after the 2002 election, newly-empowered Republicans stripped Democrat Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor of much of his authority despite a solid re-election victory.
That January 2003 vote changed the rules to give Republicans control over committee chairmanships and the flow of legislation. Eric Johnson, then the Senate’s top Republican, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time that “as long as we have the votes we can do whatever we want.”
Many Republicans at the time were quick to cite Taylor’s treatment of Republicans when they were in the minority, including his infamous rebuke to Sonny Perdue when he was a GOP state senator frustrated over legislation that was bottled up: “Cry me a river.”
The drama in North Carolina unfolded about a week after McCrory conceded defeat to Cooper, with a recount showing he lost by about 10,000 votes out of nearly 5 million ballots cast. His loss was seen by many Georgia lawmakers as a cautionary tale.
McCrory had supported a so-called “bathroom bill” considered discriminatory to transgender people, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and other Republican leaders have since used his defeat to try to ward off a renewed fight in Georgia over “religious liberty” legislation vigorously opposed by business groups.