Republicans in North Carolina are attempting to limit incoming Democratic governor Roy Cooper’s power two weeks before he takes office.
In a surprise last-minute special session on Wednesday, Republican lawmakers introduced a host of legislation that would neutralise some of the gains Democrats made in the Tar Heel State on Election Day.
Lawmakers had gathered in Raleigh to address the state’s relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Matthew, and settled on a $201 million aid package earlier on Wednesday. But once the special session ended, Republicans surprised Democrats with an extra session that apparently had been in the works for at least two days.
One bill would eliminate Cooper’s control over state elections board appointments, ensuring the board would consist of four Democrats and four Republicans. The two parties would alternate chairing the board every year, with Republicans getting control in election years.
Another bill would require candidates for the state Supreme Court to be listed on the ballot alongside their political party. November’s nonpartisan election, won by liberal judge Michael Morgan, swung the balance of the court toward Democrats.
An additional bill would make Cooper’s Cabinet appointments subject to Senate confirmation.
Discussion on the legislation will begin Thursday, and voting is expected to begin before the end of the week.
Democrats in the state were furious over the extra session, the surprise nature of which will minimise public input on the proposed bills.
“This is an unprecedented, shameful, and cowardly power grab from Republicans,” said Jamal Little, spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party. “After losing the Governor’s office, the GOP-controlled General Assembly is attempting to hold onto the power that voters took away from them.”
Cooper narrowly defeated incumbent Pat McCrory last month, and will replace the Republican as governor on January 1.
Since Election Day, Democrats had speculated whether Republicans would use this week’s special session to add two seats to the state Supreme Court in an attempt to undermine the court’s soon-to-be liberal majority.
House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, rejected those rumours, but for some Democrats, the ensuing proposals were equally damaging.
“This is why people don’t trust us. This is why they hate us,” Democratic Rep. Darren Jackson said. “Using hurricane relief as the reason to come back to Raleigh to do a lot of things because you lost an election by 10,000 votes.”
Cooper himself ended his days-long Twitter silence to chastise the General Assembly:
Meanwhile, state Republicans argued they were within their rights to check Cooper’s power.
“When we were in the minority, we would complain about these things and they would do it. They are now in the minority,” Senate leader Phil Berger said, according to the Associated Press. “It is perfectly in line with things that have been done for years in this building.”