Editor’s note: After this column was written, North Carolina lawmakers voted against repealing the transgender “bathroom bill,” which requires people to use public restrooms that match the sex on their birth certificates.
North Carolina Republicans have provoked a political firestorm. First, Gov. Pat McCrory refused to concede his loss for close to a month. Then, under the guise of providing Hurricane Matthew relief money, they convened several back-to-back special sessions, all geared at stripping power from Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper before he takes office. The North Carolina General Assembly has seen mass protests and civil disobedience in defiance of the assembly’s middle-of-the-night proceedings. Whereas President Barack Obama is honoring the tradition of the peaceful transfer of power, a fundamental pillar of American democracy, North Carolina Republicans are taking a different path.
Among the changes imposed by the Republican majority, they have reduced the number of political appointments Gov. Cooper can make from 1,500 to about 425, essentially forcing him to keep close to 1,000 people loyal to the man he defeated. They have stripped the incoming governor of his ability to name members of the boards of state universities, and denied future governors the power to appoint a majority to the state Board of Elections.
The North Carolina legislature—both the Senate and the House of Representatives—has been in the hands of Republicans since the anti-Obama tea party electoral backlash of 2010. When Gov. McCrory took office in 2013, after controversial statewide redistricting, he enjoyed an even stronger Republican legislative majority. Then the U.S. Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 partisan decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, threw out key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The floodgates were opened for the disenfranchisement of people of color across the South, and North Carolina didn’t disappoint.
“We have seen, since Shelby, the worst coordinated attack in this country,” the Rev. Dr. William Barber told us on the “Democracy Now!” news hour last April. He is the president of the North Carolina NAACP. He continued: “At the very time that African-Americans are voting at 70 percent and we’re building fusion with progressive whites and Latinos, we’ve seen an extremist governor and legislature vote to put in place apartheid voting districts. We’ve seen them shorten the early-voting period by a full week, because 70 percent of those that use the first week are African-American. We’ve seen them eliminate same-day registration, because 43 percent of those that use same-day registration are African-American. And we’ve seen them pass a strict form of photo ID that negatively impacts 300,000 voters. This is a racial and class attack on our democracy.”
Ultimately, a U.S. Court of Appeals agreed that North Carolina’s omnibus electoral law was unconstitutional. “The new provisions target African-Americans with almost surgical precision,” the opinion stated. North Carolina’s appeal of this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court lost in a 4-4 tie, as it came after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
In another loss to the modern-day segregationists in North Carolina, a federal court struck down the state’s gerrymandered legislative districts. The justices allowed the imminent 2016 election to proceed, but ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw the districts to be more representative, and to hold new elections in the fall of 2017.
The North Carolina General Assembly also battled in special session over whether to rescind the controversial state law known as HB2, aka “the bathroom bill.” HB2 was passed to override a Charlotte, N.C., anti-discrimination ordinance that, among other provisions, allowed people use of the bathroom, changing room or locker room that matches their gender identity. North Carolina Republicans passed the sweeping, discriminatory HB2 last March.
The law was met with protests and grass-roots boycotts. Corporate decisions to move events and jobs from North Carolina have hit hard. The NBA is moving its All-Star Game from Charlotte, costing the state an estimated $100 million in lost revenue. The NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference also moved championship games out of state, and scores of industry conferences and conventions have pulled out. PayPal canceled plans to create 400 jobs there, and Deutsche Bank shifted a 250-job facility to Florida. Bruce Springsteen and other musicians canceled concerts. The overall economic damage to North Carolina is estimated at over $500 million.
Desperate to bring business back to the state, the Republicans agreed to repeal HB2 on the condition that Charlotte first repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance in question. On Wednesday, Charlotte’s city council fully repealed the ordinance. The Republican-controlled legislature adjourned the special session convened solely to repeal HB2, leaving the discriminatory law intact.
Despite the political chaos, the Rev. Barber has hope, and envisions a “Third Reconstruction.” He told us, “They are afraid. They are fearful ... they see this tide rising. They see black and white and Latino people standing together in the Deep South. They know that if we have policy movement along with this kind of moral movement, it will not only energize North Carolina, but it could energize the rest of the South.”