Turnabout happens, through fair play and otherwise.
That was certainly the case here in North Carolina when almost overnight we went from a government led by people more liberal than the populace to one that was more conservative.
This weekend, a version of that happens in Washington, D.C. There have already been numerous essays using our experience here as an oracle through which to see our nation’s future.
As strained as those comparisons might be, there are a few similarities in the dynamics to keep in mind.
One is the pent-up demand for legislation that was shut down under the previous divided government.
In 2011, the session after our legislature flipped, legislation, particularly social issues, that had been prevented from seeing the light of day moved quickly. Success emboldened backers to do more.
Another dynamic was near endless reorganization. From its largest departments to who sits on the dozens of state boards and commissions, the structure of government was shifted, shuttered and shuffled around. Sometimes it made sense, sometimes it disguised a major policy change and sometimes it was just a pet project of the newly powerful.
In every case, change did not come cheap, nor without confusion.
The third dynamic is pretty simple; things end up in court. Unchecked, near-absolute power can lead to overreach and haste. Both of those can get you sued.
Just a guess, but that seems like a good place to start if you’re wondering what about North Carolina’s recent past is prologue to what the county is about to experience.
To recap: a lot of stuff you never thought would become law will become law, the government is going to get reorganized and there will be wave after wave of lawsuits that will take years to work out.
Here at home, we’re on to a new phase and a new juxtaposition.
Although in reality there is nothing so fractious as one party rule, we’re officially back to divided government. But the momentum is far different than the last time the Republicans controlled the legislature under a Democratic governor.
While Bev Perdue was nearing the end of her term and clout, Roy Cooper is just out of the gate. From an early swearing-in to quick court challenges to bills passed at the end of the McCrory term to dial back the governor’s powers, Cooper came out swinging.
He’s not just playing defense. Last week, he put the legislature in the position of having to sue him by declaring that a 2013 law preventing the governor from expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act no longer applied.
Cooper got a court fight as expected, but he also got a venue to underline the stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid.
This is probably not the last time you’ll see something along these lines. There were a number of bills that McCrory might have challenged were he not so easily bulldozed by the legislature.
Cooper could very well have a list ready of actions similar to the Medicaid move, laws recently passed that he could ignore or challenge. To back him up, he has a string of recent court victories including McCrory’s successful lawsuit against the legislature over usurping executive appointment power and the Asheville water system lawsuit, which further defined limits on the legislature’s control over cities.
Cooper spent 12 years in the legislature and 16 as attorney general. He knows where the levers of power are down to the local level.
It is hard not to imagine that when the legislature returns next week we’ll see a resumption of the political theater at the end of 2016. The session is front-loaded with events sure to trigger partisan volleys. The confirmation of Cooper’s cabinet by the Senate and the governor’s first budget proposal are likely flashpoints.
With a budget surplus, a stable economy and pressing priorities like hurricane recovery, the session will be an interesting test of our political system and whether in an era of continued hyper-partisanship those we sent to Raleigh can break away from the fight long enough to govern.
Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist, musician and public-policy enthusiast. Contact him at email@example.com