Note: this story has been updated to reflect the latest developments in North Carolina.
After being dealt a narrow electoral defeat, outgoing North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory on Friday took the extraordinary step of signing into law the first of a series of bills designed to handicap Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper before he even takes the oath of office, in a move his critics are calling nothing less than a coup.
The bill McCrory signed merges the state’s Board of Elections and Ethics Commission into a single body and denies Cooper the ability to load the panel with partisan appointees, as governors have been able to in the past. It also makes future races for appellate court judges partisan elections.
The bill is one of several coming from a special legislative session called Wednesday night, at which the Republican-lead state general assembly moved to drastically limit the scope of Cooper’s impending authority—a last-minute power grab designed to wrest political power away from the North Carolina’s newly blue executive branch.
Among the other measures introduced are bills that would make all of Cooper’s cabinet appointees subject to approval from the State Senate, deny him the ability to appoint trustees to the University of North Carolina, and reduce the size of the gubernatorial staff from 1,500 to just 300 employees, Raleigh’s News and Observer reported.
In signing Friday’s bill, it’s quite possible that McCrory’s final major act as governor will end up being the detonation of the very office he is about to vacate—all to carry out revenge on his Democratic successor, to say nothing of North Carolina’s voters.
“This is an unprecedented, shameful and cowardly power grab from the Republicans,’’ a spokesman for North Carolina’s Democratic Party told the New York Times before the bill was signed. “After losing the governor’s officer, the GOP-controlled General Assembly is attempting to hold on to power that voters took away from them.”
The state Republicans’ move comes nearly 10 months after a special legislative session was used to pass North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ “House Bill Two,” which regulated the use of public restrooms for transgender people, and limited protections afforded to members of the LGBTQ community. That deeply controversial measure—which Gov. McCrory signed, and championed over the past year— was largely seen as a major factor in Cooper’s narrow electoral victory in November. It also follows a series of judicial rulings condemning Republican-lead efforts to limit voting rights among minorities.
Speaking with the News and Observer, representative David Lewis (R-Harnett) justified the measures.
“I think to be candid with you, that you will see the General Assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the executive branch,” Lewis explained. He later added that state Republicans plan to “work to establish that we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing this state.”
Oh, OK then.
North Carolina’s Democrats, meanwhile, are understandably outraged by the legislative coup. On Facebook, Senator Jeff Jackson (D-37) shared an article about the proposed bills, writing: “When we do things like spring a surprise, second special session and load it with legislation that strips the incoming Governor of authority, it gets the attention of every media outlet in the country. Here’s the New York Times, showing our state to the world.”
“Is this how we want people to see us?” he asked his followers. “As power hungry and vengeful?”