America’s electoral system has been justly criticized of late for producing a fundamentally undemocratic outcome, but the erosion of democratic rule in America isn’t limited to the Electoral College presidency. Republicans in North Carolina have launched a full-fledged assault on the state’s democratic checks and balances, all with the goal of disempowering the state’s incoming Democratic governor because, well, he’s a Democrat.
Update: Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law the proposal to limit the power of his successor, Roy Cooper, to appoint people to the state's ethics and elections boards. Democratic National Committee Interim Chair Donna Brazile called it an "unprecedented power grab."
In the November election, progressives* gained a majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court, and incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory lost reelection by around 10,000 votes. McCrory refused to concede, however, alleging without evidence that there had been voter fraud in half of the state’s counties, and demanded a recount. He lost the recount, making way for Democrat Roy Cooper to assume the governorship in January.
Rather than accept that they had lost a democratic vote, however, state Republicans instead moved to strip Cooper of as much power as possible before he takes office. They did this by calling a special legislative session on Wednesday and proposing a slate of changes that would dramatically reduce the power of the governorship in North Carolina — and, not surprisingly, transfer that power to the GOP-controlled state legislature.
Much of this centers on the governor’s power to appoint members to various state commissions. For instance, current law allows the governor to appoint an Industrial Commission chairman at the beginning of their term; Republicans want to change this law, effective immediately, so that McCrory can fill the position before he leaves office.
The existing law in North Carolina also allows the governor to appoint a majority of members to each county’s election board, as well as the State Election Commission. Republicans are proposing that an even number of Democrat- and Republican-appointed members serve on both boards, thus preventing Democrats from ever gaining control of them.
North Carolina Republicans are also proposing that Democrats chair the State Election Commission in odd-numbered years, when there usually aren’t any elections, while Republicans chair it in even-numbered years, when elections are normally held. This would effectively deprive Democrats the opportunity to ever oversee elections in the state.
The list goes on. Currently, the governor is allowed to appoint 1,500 government employees that they can hire or fire at will, without any input from the state legislature. The GOP wants to reduce this number to 300. It also wants to greatly limit the circumstances in which the state Supreme Court, now controlled by progressives, can hear constitutional appeals.
Not surprisingly, this has resulted in outrage for those in the state who do value democracy. Twelve protesters were arrested outside the state capitol Monday, as was a reporter, Joe Killian, who was covering the proceedings.
All of this comes on the heels of the North Carolina GOP’s earlier, successful attempts to purge minority voters from voter rolls and restricting early voting in minority counties. These were nakedly racist laws that aimed solely to disenfranchise minority voters and, in doing so, ensure Republican control of the state.
"This is an unprecedented, shameful and cowardly power grab from Republicans," a spokesman for the state Democratic Party said. “Make no mistake, the legislation we are seeing today are attempts from Republicans to usurp power from Gov.-elect Roy Cooper after losing the election."
To be sure, state legislatures certainly have the right to change the functioning and structure of state governments. But Republicans have controlled both branches of the legislature since 2012, and they didn’t propose any of these changes during the last four years, when there was a Republican governor. Now that a Democrat is poised to take control of the governorship, they want to severely reduce the governor’s power. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on here.
The fact that Donald Trump will be become president by receiving 2.8 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton is pretty solid proof that American presidential elections aren’t democratic. But as the GOP’s moves in North Carolina reveal, even the states aren’t safe.
This isn’t a bipartisan phenomenon; the blame here lands squarely with Republicans. Before the 2016 election, you had the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate refusing to hold any hearings for Merrick Garland, despite the fact that he was nominated to the Supreme Court by the president for whom a majority of Americans voted for twice, in two straight elections. Before Republicans won control of the Senate, the GOP Senate minority launched an unprecedented number of filibusters against Obama’s appointees and initiatives, thus allowing the minority to usurp the majority in the legislative branch.
America has long purported to be a democracy, but with every passing election, that’s getting harder and harder to believe. At best, American democracy is fragile and under concerted attack from one of the two political parties. At worst, it simply doesn’t exist.
*Progressives, not Democrats, because NC Supreme Court candidates don’t run as partisans. However, one change proposed by Republicans would require candidates to run for the state Supreme Court under party affiliations.