In what is being described as "an unprecedented, shameful, and cowardly power grab," members of North Carolina's Republican-led General Assembly late Wednesday took advantage of a special session called ostensibly to help victims of recent flooding and forest fires to file dozens of bills aimed at crippling incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.
"Extremists in the legislature are upset about the outcome of our election and are trying to maintain their control," declared the state chapter of the NAACP, which is holding a "People's Assembly" at the state legislative building Thursday afternoon to protest the effort to undermine democracy.
"Most people might think that this is a partisan power grab. But this is more ominous," Cooper told reporters Thursday.
The more than 20 bills filed include laws that would effectively "reduce air and water protections and change education policies, including larger class sizes and budget shifts," according to Cooper, the Charlotte Observer reports.
"Major changes in the way state government operates should be done deliberately, with input from all parties, particularly something as important as elections and making sure people have the opportunity to vote," said Cooper, the attorney general who defeated Gov. Pat McCrory in the November election. "They shouldn't be pushed through in the dark of night."
Specifically, "[m]embers of the Republican-controlled legislature called for making Cooper's Cabinet appointments subject to approval by the state Senate and eliminating his ability to appoint members to UNC schools' boards of trustees and the state Board of Education," the Observer notes. "Another proposal aims to evenly split election boards between the political parties rather than keep them under control of the governor's party."
Further, the Washington Post reported, "[t]wo bills also want to change the state courts' partisan make up." One would "[m]ake North Carolina just the sixth state in the nation to have its state Supreme Court elections be partisan, as opposed to nonpartisan," while a second would add "an extra layer to appeals cases so that all cases have to go through the full court of appeals, which is controlled by Republicans."
State Democratic Party spokesperson Jamal Little did not mince words in his response.
"This is an unprecedented, shameful and cowardly power grab from Republicans," Little said. "After losing the Governor's office, the GOP-controlled General Assembly is attempting to hold on to the power that voters took away from them. Make no mistake, the legislation we are seeing today are attempts from Republicans to usurp power from Governor-elect Roy Cooper after losing the election. Republicans should be ashamed of these unprecedented power grabs that have no place in our democracy."
During McCrory's tenure, the state's Republican party passed a slew of measures that cut funding for schools and healthcare, limited voter access, rolled back environmental protections, and attacked the rights of transgender people. Public outcry against those measures catalyzed the NC NAACP's weekly Moral Monday protests and largely boosted Cooper's victory last month.
"The people of North Carolina will not take this," declared the NC NAACP's call to action. "We demand that they respect our vote, end this Session and stop attacking our democracy."
As the Observer noted, "The floodgates for all these last-minute bills opened when the GOP-controlled legislature brought the session on disaster relief to a close by approving McCrory’s request for $200 million. Legislators immediately issued a proclamation convening a new special session, the fourth of the year." (It is worth mentioning that North Carolina's controversial, anti-LGBTQ law HB2 was also passed during a March special session.)
Flood victim Sean Yarborough of Robeson County issued a statement Thursday condemning lawmakers for "exploiting" the suffering of civilians. "My family is still recovering from the flooding, and some of our neighbors lost everything they had," he said. "We are pleading with lawmakers not to exploit our suffering by using us as political pawns in their blatantly partisan schemes while they're supposed to be helping us rebuild."