By: Olivia Cohen and Charlie Mascia
The Republican-controlled NC Senate called the fourth special assembly of 2016, passing a number of bills which would impede on the future powers of Governor Roy Cooper. Throughout the last decade there have been only two special sessions called, and yet as former Republican Governor Pat McCrory feverishly makes preparations for his departure, Republicans have called for more sessions in hopes of passing the last-minute legislation.
The special sessions have been controversial, especially paired with the heated presidential election. The second session focused on passing the widely disliked, and economically cataclysmic HB2 bill, which many regard as a blatant encroachment of American civil rights, while the third session of the General Assembly was called to appropriate 200 million dollars to assist in the disaster relief of Hurricane Matthew and the chronic fall wildfires which ravaged the mountains of North Carolina.
This most recent session has been called to pass bills which will nullify many powers of the state’s executive. A fair number of legislation was proposed that will hinder Cooper’s ability to assemble his administration. First, the House and Senate have both pushed bills which would force the Governor-elect into receiving Senate confirmation for each appointee; the session also wishes to withdraw the executive’s ability to appoint trustees to UNC schools, to conclude the Assembly intends to re-institutionalize the partisan state Supreme Court elections and create a merger between both the state ethics commission and the state board of elections. As their final act of 2016, Republicans dismantled the Office of Congressional Ethics on Dec 31, effectively eliminating any opportunities that would suppress their proposed legislation for 2017.
The unprecedented defense against the newly inaugurated Democratic administration was met with trepidation and criticism. But despite the uproar, many experts claim that the Republicans actions were not surprising.
“It’s not uncommon for the executive branch and the legislative branch, the Democratic and Republican Parties, to vie for power, to test each other, to seek advantage. By seeking an especially strong advantage, the Republican lawmakers have sought to advance their agenda on schools, environment and such, and tried to erect barriers to Cooper, a Democrat, for advancing his agenda,” said Ferrel Guillory, a professor in Media and Journalism at UNC. He explained that many governments find themselves attempting to jettison powers in order to weaken the opposing government. However, the Republican controlled legislature’s move is startlingly aggressive and undoubtedly farther reaching than most others.
The actions taken by the GOP legislature leave many North Carolinian citizens feeling outraged and cheated. Ferrel Guillory explained there is really only one thing citizens can do: “What citizens can do. A four-letter word: Vote.” However, some citizens argue that even if they vote, and win, the opposing side will simply block the will of their elected official, rendering their vote essentially pointless.
Roy Cooper has responded to this Republican offensive with a strong and provocative defense:
“If I believe these measures are unconstitutional, they will see me in court and they don’t have a good track record there.”
In a recent news conference, Roy Cooper threatened to sue the legislature. Cooper even argued that the way the legislature called another special session was unconstitutional, and therefore all of their actions in this special session would be rendered null. When comparing the secretive and furtive nature of the GOP’s special session to the now mostly despised special session which passed HB2, Cooper reminded North Carolinians of the importance of sharing the Assembly’s plans with the public.
“We don’t want another disaster like House Bill 2. This is exactly why we had problems with House Bill 2, because they wanted to do it in secret,” Cooper said. “They’re major changes in North Carolina law. They deserve debate. They deserve deliberation.”
The controversy and argument surrounding the GOP’s acts in Congress will not be quelled anytime soon, especially as the legislature has failed to repeal the widely disliked HB2. While there is some insight into what will be discussed during the 2017 sessions, the complete agenda has not yet been published. Cooper was sworn in as Governor on Jan 1, leaving to question what will become of the controversial North Carolina State Legislature.
Photo courtesy of Autism Society of North Carolina