“Then he got an idea. An awful idea. The Grinch had a wonderful, awful idea.”
That quote from the classic children’s book, “How the Grinch stole Christmas”, comes to mind when thinking about the recent actions of Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly. How could they prevent “Christmas” from coming for the Democrats whose victories in the races for Governor and the State Supreme Court threatened to derail the Republican agenda? One can almost hear the Republican leadership at the NCGA channeling the Dr Seuss villain as they hatched their plans, and last week like the Grinch flying into Whooville on a ramshackle sleigh the plans swung into motion.
Leading up to last week, many in the media had gone into what ultimately amounted to a “fake news” frenzy over the possibility of the NCGA packing the State Supreme Court. Under this scenario legislators would add two new justices that Governor Pat McCrory could appoint before leaving office. That would effectively nullify the defeat of incumbent Supreme Court Justice, Bob Edmunds, by keeping the State Supreme Court in Republican hands.
Fortunately, there apparently is a line somewhere for what legislators won’t do, and they didn’t do that.
However in just about 48 hours from last Wednesday afternoon until Friday, NCGA Republicans unilaterally moved two bills through the General Assembly impacting both the Judiciary and the Executive branches of state government.
In Senate Bill 4, Legislators reinstalled partisan races for the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court like they used to be prior to being made non-partisan in 2002. They also made changes to how appeals go through the court system, allowing those losing appeals to a 3 member appellate panel to request review by the entire 15 member Court of Appeals. While not having an immediate impact on the makeup of the courts, these changes in the long run will likely benefit Republican judicial candidates and help sustain Republican legislation.
In House Bill 17, Legislators set their sights on the Executive Branch, making several changes. They reduced the number of political patronage jobs Roy Cooper will be able to appoint from 1500 to 425. They made extensive changes to how public education is managed giving more control to the new Superintendent of Public Instruction, a fellow Republican. Finally, they required Senate confirmation of several appointed department heads.
As of this writing, Governor McCrory has signed SB4. HB17 is awaiting his signature. UPDATE - McCrory signed HB17 as well on Monday.
As one can imagine, the response has been swift and severe from Democrats. They are decrying these bills as attacks on democracy. Some calling them a “power grab” and as usual lawsuits are being threatened. What is probably more surprising is the backlash from some on the political right with several well known conservative voices across the state chiming in as well. Bob Leubke at NC Civitas cautioned that “majorities don’t last forever” and added that the changes implemented here may “come back to haunt” Republicans. Pete Kaliner, a former WBT radio host who now has a show in Asheville, called the bills “revenge governing.” Finally, Sister Toldjah a well known conservative blogger in the state who writes at the American Lens, said Republicans needed to choose their battles more wisely and learn how to “fight smarter”.
In response to that criticism, Republican leaders made what was effectively a two wrongs make a right argument saying everything done was legal and nothing worse than what Democrats had done to Republicans in the past. That may all be true, but it’s not much of a defense.
Even the Grinch had his heart grow two sizes by the end of story. He turned it around and ended the story on a high note. He didn’t continue the divisiveness. Here in North Carolina, it looks like we’ll have to wait for that.
This post first appeared in this week’s Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com