The North Carolina Semi-Coup
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) on Friday signed legislation that will severely curtail the powers of his successor, Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper.
The Republican-dominated state legislature passed several measures dramatically overhauling the governor’s power in an unexpected special session just weeks before McCrory leaves office. Democrats argued that the moves amounted to a power grab aimed at undermining Cooper even before he takes office.
At least 18 people were arrested during protests against the Republican maneuvers Friday at the state capitol in Raleigh.
The bill McCrory signed will limit the governor’s power to make appointments to certain state boards including the Board of Elections.
It would create state and county boards of elections with equal numbers of Democratic and Republican members. Until now, the governor appointed three of the five members of the state Board of Elections, and county boards were made up of two members of the governor’s party and one member of the other party.
And that’s not all. Read more.
Look, I am genuinely sorry Pat McCrory lost, but reacting this way to stop an opposition candidate who won a free and fair election is dirty. It may well be legal, but it’s shockingly dirty, and the state’s GOP lawmakers ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Where do they think this kind of thing will go? Forget about North Carolina itself. This is going to be a national thing. Nationally, Democrats are getting really excited about a Tea-Party-meets-Saul-Alinsky plan to stop Trump and the Congressional GOP by just about any means necessary. Here’s what the New Yorker says about it:
On Wednesday, around 7 p.m., a Google document entitled “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” began making the rounds online. Its origin was the Twitter account of Ezra Levin, a thirty-one-year-old associate director at a national anti-poverty nonprofit, and self-described “Twitter novice,” who lives in D.C. and, until a few days ago, had roughly six hundred and fifty followers. His tweet’s simple message, “Please share w/ your friends to help fight Trump’s racism, authoritarianism, & corruption on their home turf,” belied three weeks of unpaid work by some three dozen mostly young progressives who had been collaborating on the document since the week of Thanksgiving.
The document, which you can read by clicking the link above (I suggest you do), is entirely devoted to throwing wrenches into the gears of Republican governance. More:
The document analyzes the strategic wisdom of the Tea Party, focussing on its local activism and emphasis on defense rather than offense. “We tried to be really clear in the document that, like it or not, the Tea Party really did have significant accomplishments—facing more difficult odds than we face today—and that it’s worth thinking about what parts of their strategy and tactics really enabled that,” Levin said. “We aimed to balance that acknowledgment by being very clear that we’re not endorsing the Tea Party’s horrible and petty scare tactics.”
Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and a former staffer for Senators Edward Kennedy and Harry Reid, told me that he was impressed that the document “urges people to play defensive baseball.” “I understand the need for a positive agenda, as do they,” he added. “But I think they’re correct in their assessment on copying some of the tactics of the Tea Party and trying to make Republicans feel pain or pay a price for some of the stuff they’re about to vote on.” He said that he planned to keep the document on his desktop and work with it in the future.
I read the whole document, and despaired — but probably not for the reason you think. I agree that the plan looks great. This is smart hardball politics. What makes me despair is the same reason the NC GOP’s behavior makes me despair: all of this is ultimately going to destroy our democracy.
Where did it start? With the Senate Democrats in the 1980s going all-out to destroy Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court? Maybe. If you’re a liberal, you no doubt have in mind a moment when the GOP started it. It doesn’t really matter. The truth is that there is no incentive on either side to stop. It’s not about fair play, respect for one’s opponents, or even the rule of law. It’s all about power: exercising it harshly, or preventing the other side from exercising it, no matter what.
Where does it stop? How does it stop? I’m serious. I write a lot in this space about the Jacobins on college campuses who demonize their opponents, silence them, and claim that extremism in the pursuit of social justice is no vice. Those people are not prepared to play by the rules of liberal democracy. Tell me, though: how does the NC GOP’s move differ in principle? The Other is such a monstrous enemy that they must be beaten down no matter what it takes. Just win. To be fair is to be weak.
And just what do these North Carolina Republicans think the Democrats are going to do when they take power again, as they are bound to sooner or later? What do any of these factionalists on the left or the right think is going to happen to them when they are once again on the bottom rung? Or do they think about it at all?
Dark days ahead for our country.
UPDATE: Reader William Dalton, who lives in NC, offers valuable perspective:
You don’t live in North Carolina. Believe me, the acts of the General Assembly in expanding and contracting the Governor’s powers, particularly when there is a change of governing power from one party to the other, has a long and pedigreed history. When Republicans captured the statehouse in 1972, for the first time in the century, the General Assembly, still controlled by Democrats, acted swiftly to take many of the Governor’s powers of appointment away from him and assign them to themselves or to other elected state officials whose offices remained in Democratic hands. And that was when the Governor of North Carolina had neither the power to veto legislation nor to succeed himself in office. Jim Holshouser was the most ineffective governor, probably of any state, in modern history. And that is just what the Democrats intended. This story was repeated, to a lesser degree, when power was more balanced, in 1984, when Jim Martin was elected. He had a veto, he could and successfully did, run to succeed himself. And Republicans even achieved a balance of power in the General Assembly during his term of office. But he did not have the number of patronage jobs to hand out that Jim Hunt had had before him (and then later would again when elected twice more after him).
Yes, Republicans are taking advantage of the power they have to redistribute government powers in ways to advantage themselves. But the people of North Carolina gave Republicans that kind of power when electing them to the General Assembly – all of whom were just returned in this same election which barely made Roy Cooper the new Governor. Cooper now has the same opportunity to succeed for himself and his party that Jim Martin did when he was elected in 1984. We’ll see what he does with it. But people won’t be impressed if all they see is Democrats continuing to act like political cry babies, a habit which that party seems to nurtured nationwide as well.