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North Carolina Dems Accuse GOP of Power Grab; Gov.-Elect Cooper Threatens Lawsuit

Protesters gather outside of a press conference room during a special session at the North Carolina Legislature in Raleigh, N.C., on Dec. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said North Carolina Democrats are making too much out of legislation he signed that curtails the power of the state’s next governor, Roy Cooper (D).

Cooper, North Carolina’s attorney general who defeated McCrory in a contentious election, said the legislation is only intended to ensure Republicans retain control of North Carolina and to make his term as governor as difficult as possible.

The North Carolina legislature convened in a special session in early December to work on emergency state funding to help North Carolinians recover from Hurricane Matthew. What came out of the session, along with funding to help the storm victims, was House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4.

“I signed legislation to reorganize a broken election process, bringing stronger ethics and a fair and transparent system to ensure consistent application of rules and procedures across our state,” McCrory said in a statement.

The Republican said he was only trying to protect the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

“Examples include discouraging proposed legislation moving major departments including Information Technology and Commerce outside of the governor’s authority. I also successfully worked to deter any efforts to expand the composition of our Supreme Court,” McCrory added.

Because of House Bill 17, all of Roy Cooper’s cabinet appointments will have to be confirmed by the Senate, gubernatorial authority for University of North Carolina Boards of Trustees appointments has been transferred to the General Assembly, and the power the governor had over public education now goes to the superintendent of public education, who happens to be a Republican.

Senate Bill 4 merges the Board of Elections into a bipartisan body that Democrats said the GOP will be able to control in even-number years, brings back partisan elections for Court of Appeals and Supreme Court justices, and limits the authority of the Supreme Court to consider constitutional challenges.

North Carolina Democrats see it all as nothing but a bid to undercut Gov.-elect Roy Cooper’s ability to appoint members of his administration and oversee other parts of government.

Jamal Little, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said it was ”an unprecedented, shameful and cowardly power grab from Republicans.”

“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,” Little told WRAL-TV. “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.”

After more than a dozen people were arrested trying to get into the legislature’s chambers during the HB 17 debate, McCrory blamed the uproar on “greatly exaggerated …misleading TV ads, paid protesters and state and national media outlets.”

Caren Parker, one of those banging on the doors of the General Assembly, told AP the media had nothing to do with the protest.

“We voted for a new governor and they’re choosing to come and … take away the power,” Parker said.

Cooper told reporters he was willing to compromise with Republicans on legislation they wanted to have approved. But evidently, that wasn’t good enough.

“Most people might think that this is a partisan power grab, but it is really more ominous,” Cooper said in a statement. “It is really about hurting public education, families, state employees, healthcare, and clean air and water.”

“This has got to stop,” Cooper added. “They will see me in court. And they don’t have a very good track record there.”

The Charlotte Observer editorial board called HB 17 and SB 4 “a breathtaking dis of North Carolina voters” and an “arrogant display of muscle-flexing.”

Like McCrory, the North Carolina Republican Party is urging Democrats, and the Charlotte Observer, to calm down.

The GOP reminded Democrats of their party’s glass house.

A North Carolina Republican Party press released detailed legislation approved by Democrats who were running the General Assembly at the time that allowed Gov.-elect Jim Hunt to fire all state workers who were hired during the previous five years, a list that included teachers, janitors and road workers.

Then, there was the Democrats’ move to strip GOP Gov. Jim Martin’s hiring authority, and the Democrats’ bid to take away all powers granted to the state’s lieutenant governors when Jim Gardner moved into that office.

What it all comes down to, according to North Carolina GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse, is that this is the way politics are done in North Carolina.

“This is a bunch of crocodile tears,” Woodhouse told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. “Wrong is always in the eye of the beholder of whose ox is getting gored.”

“Next thing you’re going to tell me, Chuck,” Woodhouse said as he held up a royal flush of playing cards, “is there’s gambling in Casablanca. Come on, this is the way it’s always been.”