The Republicans running the North Carolina state legislature are currently holding a special session for the purpose of ramming through major changes to state government. They kept plans to hold the special session secret, announcing it just as another special session on disaster relief was ending. They had also kept secret the purpose of the session until the new bills were introduced. The goal, it turns out, is to cut the authority of the next governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, who will take office January 7. (Cooper is currently the state’s attorney general.)
Republican will still hold a veto-proof majority in the legislature next year, so there’s no obvious need for the rush or the secrecy. But they were apparently afraid that if they waited, allowing time for public discussion and debate, opposition would have time to develop to what they’re trying to do.
One provision would combine the state ethics board with the state elections board, which is odd. It would also require that combined board and all county election boards to be balanced by party. Bipartisan election boards aren’t bad in themselves, but the legislature didn’t feel the change was needed under the current governor, Pat McCrory, a Republican. The state elections board is currently divided 3-2 in favor of Republicans and the county boards are all 2-1 Republican.
(Update 2017 Feb 2: One more obnoxious feature is that the chairmanship of the state ethics/elections board with bounces back and forth between the parties which sounds fair until you realize that the Republican Party is to head the board in even-numbered years, which is when almost all elections of consequence take place in the state.)
In addition, the legislature plans a change that will prevent over a thousand of McCrory’s political appointees from being replaced by Coper. Here’s the background:
Some jobs in the state government of North Carolina are exempt from civil service protections, meaning the governor is free to fill the positions with political employees at will. When the last governor, Democrat Bev Purdue, was in office, up to 400 people could fall into this so-called “exempt” category. But when Republican Pat McCrory succeeded her as governor, the Republican legislature expanded the number to 1500. Now the legislature is trying to reduce it to just 300, preventing Roy Cooper from replacing the remainder of McCrory’s political appointees.
Republicans are defending their actions by saying Democrats did partisan stuff in the past, and that’s true, but it doesn’t make it right. I complained about Democratic Governor Jim Hunt’s efforts to politicize state jobs as well.
Next year we’ll have a Democratic governor willing to work with a Republican legislature. That would be a good time to try to come up with some changes both sides can agree to with open public debate. This legislature does too much with rushed special sessions. (That’s also how they passed the ridiculous “bathroom bill” that even doesn’t do what they intended it to and cost the state jobs and respect.)