Before the legislature went into its notorious special session last week, 12 Republican state lawmakers issued a statement addressing a contrived controversy about Governor-elect Roy Cooper’s newly hired senior adviser, Ken Eudy.
They said Eudy is unfit to serve because he disclosed in an essay written for the website EducationNC that he stands for the national anthem, but remains seated when a crowd is urged to stand to honor those who serve in the military. Eudy, who served six years in the Army National Guard, wrote that he won’t stand for members of the military until we also honor teachers.
Eudy’s position may not be a popular one, but it represents the freedom of expression soldiers have given their lives to protect. Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover) didn’t see it that way. A West Point graduate, Grange said, “It is very concerning that Governor-elect Cooper’s pick for senior adviser, Ken Eudy, has publicly expressed negative opinions and degrading comments toward our state’s military servicemen and women.”
And yet, only two days later, these Republican patriots participated in an attack on the democratic system they are sworn to uphold. In an unannounced special session they moved to limit Governor-elect Cooper’s power to appoint his Cabinet and fill his administration with people who share his priorities. The Republican majority also sought to change the judicial process by directing that appeals of state constitutional challenges of their laws go first to the state Court of Appeals, where Republicans have an 11-4 majority. Those appeals had gone directly from the Superior Court to the state Supreme Court, which just flipped to Democratic control.
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These actions weren’t mere political gamesmanship. They were yet other assault on the democratic process. In recent years, Republican lawmakers tried to curtail the right to vote and have repeatedly passed laws that violate the U.S. Constitution. They’ve distorted the voting process through gerrymandering to an unprecedented degree. And now they are thwarting the result of a statewide election. They’re quick to salute the flag, but they treat the Constitution like a doormat.
To justify their actions, Republican leaders have reached back to distant Democratic moves to offset past Republican victories for governor and lieutenant governor. But those actions were much more limited and occurred decades ago. Citing them only debases the new Republican majority. They ran, after all, on eliminating the abuses of an entrenched Democratic Party, not repeating them.
These are extraordinary times for all who are dedicated to the process that has made this nation the world’s most successful and inspiring experiment in democracy. The experiment is a vulnerable, but powerful thing. It withstood the Civil War and the Great Depression, but it can fail on an ordinary Thursday afternoon in Raleigh.
Last week’s power grab ignored the democratic process. There was no announcement of the coming legislation and no public hearings. Citizens who went to the Legislative Building to protest were thrown out and dozens were arrested.
This high-handed legislative action is compounded by the illegitimacy of the Republican majority. A federal court has found that nine Senate districts and 19 House districts were illegally gerrymandered by race. The court has ordered new maps to be used in a special election in 2017. That ruling means the legislature has been seated three times based on elections using illegal maps, yet every time people object to the Republican legislators’ right-wing agenda they declare they are the “duly elected” representatives of the people. They were elected, but not duly.
Meanwhile, the top statewide elected officials are complicit or silent. Gov. Pat McCrory, in a final act of caving to his legislative overlords, signed legislation limiting his successor’s power over the state board of elections. Chief Justice Mark Martin has made no comment on legislation affecting the power and independence of the judicial branch.
All this is happening amid the debate about the national electoral process that awarded the presidency to a candidate who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes and benefited from the help of Russian hackers who undermined his opponent. It’s enough to give those who value and trust the democratic process vertigo.
Cooper ran a moderate campaign. Now he has won and found there is no middle ground for governing. There won’t be any compromising with the legislative leadership. He will have to work to change it through next’s year’s election. In response to the limiting of his official powers, Cooper must demonstrate his political power. The effort to hem him in may bring forth a more forceful and effective leader. Only voters can fix the process the Republican leaders have so wantonly broken.
Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@newsobserver. com