‘More ominous’ than a power grab: Incoming North Carolina governor slams Republicans for trying to strip his power

North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper slammed state Republicans on Thursday for attempting to significantly weaken his authority two weeks before he takes office.

Republicans introduced several unorthodox bills during a last-minute session Wednesday that would strip the incoming governor, a Democrat, of some of his executive powers.

Lawmakers had gathered this week to pass a $201 million relief package for hurricane victims, and Republicans used the opportunity to call for an extra session, catching Democrats by surprise and allowing almost no time for public input.

The bills, if passed by the veto-proof Republican majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, include provisions that would limit Cooper’s ability to appoint his Cabinet, give Republicans control of the state elections board during election years, strip his power to appoint University of North Carolina trustees, and reduce the number of state employees he can hire and fire at will to 300 from 1,500.

In a press conference on Thursday, Cooper called the moves “unprecedented.”

“Most people might think that this is a partisan power grab. But this is more ominous,” Cooper said.

“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. They shouldn’t be pushed through in the dark of night.”

Cooper, who has two weeks left as attorney general before he is inaugurated as governor January 1, warned Republicans he would challenge any law that appears unconstitutional.

“They will see me in court,” he said.

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North Carolina state Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat, addressing protestors during a special session at the North Carolina Legislature in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Thursday.
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AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Cooper defeated incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, by about 10,000 votes last month out of nearly 5 million cast. McCrory conceded the election last week, ending a monthlong challenge in which he lodged unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud across the state.

Voting on the special-session bills began Thursday and is expected to continue through the end of the week.

For Democrats, the contentious legislation drew comparisons to the law known as House Bill 2, which limits protections for LGBT residents of the state. That law was introduced in a one-day special session in March, passed by both houses of the General Assembly, and signed into law by McCrory in an 11-hour span.

Meanwhile, House Rules Chairman David Lewis argued the measures were necessary for Republicans “to establish that we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing the state.” Lewis conceded, however, that the legislation was at least partially motivated by partisan politics.

“Some of the stuff we’re doing, obviously if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on, but a lot of this stuff would have been done anyway and has been talked about for quite some time,” he said.