Pat McCrory, outgoing Republican NC governor

Roy Cooper, incoming Democratic NC governor

What – After adjourning a special session held to pass funding for wildfire and hurricane relief in North Carolina, the legislature convened a second session. However, the Republican-majority legislature instead used the session to create and pass legislature which severely limits the power of the governor in preparation for Cooper’s inauguration.

These changes include

  • Stripping future governors of the power to appoint a majority to the State Board of Elections
    • The number of members will be increased from five to eight in order to prevent a Democratic majority with six votes needed to move on any topic. In addition, the opposition party would chair the board in even-numbered years, when every congressional-election is held.
  • Making it more difficult for losers of some court cases to appeal directly to a Democratic-majority Supreme Court
  • Stripping the governor of the ability to name members to the boards of state universities
  • Reducing the number of state employees the governor can appoint from 1500 to 300
  • Making the governor’s cabinet appointments subject to approval by the State Senate
  • Republicans currently hold super majorities, meaning they can overpower any veto of the governor.
  • Eliminate carbon-emissions testing in some counties
  • Ending some state environmental reports

How – Republicans in NC hold a supermajority in the legislature thanks to laws on voter identification and years of gerrymandering. They used this supermajority to quickly pass legislations limiting Cooper.

Why – By limiting the powers of the governor, North Carolina Republicans aim to hobble Cooper’s governorship and limit his ability to appoint people to certain positions. 

General Background – Actions by the North Carolina legislature follow on the heels of a narrow victory for Governor-elect Roy Cooper (D) over Governor Pat McCrory (R). McCrory initially contested the results of the election, claiming that voter fraud caused his loss. However, the Republican-majority Elections Board rejected such claims and McCrory was forced to concede, leading to the legislation now introduced. Republicans claim that they endured similar legislation from the Democrats in the 70’s and 90’s, However, those instances are starkly different from the actions of Republicans today. Some have pointed to the possibility of challenging the new laws on election boards in court, making the case that the laws violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting power. These boards are highly important, exemplified by three of the boards’ attempts to revoke the voting rights of thousands shortly before Election Day. These attempts were blocked by a federal judge.

What’s Next – McCrory still has not signed all of the proposed legislation into law, though it is expected that he will. How Cooper chooses to respond is not yet clear. He has threatened to sue the legislature over unconstitutionality in the new changes, though the results of such a lawsuit are far from certain. In addition, North Carolina will be forced to hold special elections for some districts in November 2017 after federal judges ruled that the gerrymandering done by Republicans since 2010 was unconstitutional.