Editorials

Capital coup – a runaway GOP moves to strip governor of powers

Even as state Republican leaders denied their second special session — following one on hurricane and wildfire disaster relief — was about packing the state Supreme Court, they were conspiring to engage in high-handed partisanship to strip the governor’s office of appointive power and rearrange the line of authority in the judicial system to ensure more power will reside with Republican judges.

So now those leaders intend to repudiate the will of the people who elected Roy Cooper, who beat GOP Gov. Pat McCrory.

They want to weaken Cooper, by making Cabinet appointments subject to their (Senate) approval, something that could hold up those appointments for weeks or months. They want to curb his appointive power for the state elections boards in each county, where the three member boards with two members of the party of the governor and one in the opposition party would change to two members of each party. That’s as blatant a partisan slap as it gets.

Although ... the number of patronage jobs — those where people serve at the pleasure of the governor — would be cut to 300 from 1,500, and Cooper’s hand would be weakened in appointments to university boards. The state Senate also wants to merge the State Board of Elections with the State Ethics Commission, a nonsensical idea that would accomplish the sneaky intention of taking control of the state elections board away from the sitting governor by making the number of Democratic and Republican members the same.

True, they didn’t add two members to the state Supreme Court, where following the election Democrats would hold a 4-3 majority. A rumor swept the Capitol that the GOP was going to do just that, whereupon McCrory would get to appoint two Republicans before leaving office. But they did damage, plenty of it, by clumisly sticking their thumbs into the judicial process itself, weakening the Supreme Court by requiring that constitutional challenges to law that previously could go directly to the Supreme Court from Superior Court would have to first go to all 15 members of the Court of Appeals. In case anyone was wondering, the Appeals Court is dominated by Republicans.

GOP leaders even got way down in the weeds in order to weaken Cooper and give themselves more power: some want to take the state Department of Information Technology, a Cabinet agency whose leader is appointed by the governor, and move it under the lieutenant governor, an office occupied by Republican Dan Forest.

Smack! Smack! Smack! That’s the sound of Republican leaders slapping the people of North Carolina right in the face with this high-handed maneuvering. The people elected Cooper as governor, meaning they wanted him to have the powers that have long resided with the governor, but GOP leaders — as they did with unconstitutional redistricting, HB2, etc. — showed they could care less about the opinion of the people. And consider they’ve set up North Carolina to have 100 years of partisan back and forth that is destructive to professional, not to mention progressive government. Now, when Democrats take the legislature again, they’ll strip Republicans of power.

It’s true, of course, that Democrats have engaged in similar, though not as drastic behavor of their own. Jim Holshouser, first GOP governor of the 20th century, lost some power to then-Lt. Gov. Jim Hunt after the 1972 election. And when Jim Gardner became a GOP lieutenant governor in 1988, Democrats took away most of his power in that office.

But Republicans, with McCrory obediently going along, have laid waste to Democratic initiatives, including improvements in public education and environmental regulation, and they remain in veto-proof control of the General Assembly. So these actions were excessive and unnecessary, and a thumb in the eye of the citizens of the state.

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