NC GOP Seeks to Reduce Gov Powers

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina Republican lawmakers facing the reality of a new Democratic governor in two weeks are nearly done taking steps to reduce his power despite angry demonstrations and threats of litigation, even from the governor-elect.

Aiming to wrap up an extraordinary special session, the GOP-controlled legislature prepared Friday to complete work on bills that would place checks upon Democrat Roy Cooper, who edged Republican incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory by just over 10,000 votes last month.

Legislation that already cleared one chamber scaled back the team Cooper can bring into office, require the Senate's approval for top administrators at state agencies and erase the governor's ability to shape elections boards statewide. The bills passed despite disruptions in the Senate and House that led chamber leaders to clear their galleries so they could continue to debate and vote Thursday.

At least 16 arrests occurred late Thursday when people in the House gallery declined to leave when asked by the General Assembly's police. As those arrested were led away, their wrists bound in plastic ties, hundreds of supporters in the rotunda chanted, "this is what democracy looks like" and "shame."

Final passage of the bills was expected Friday, when the bills would then go to McCrory for his signature in his tenure's final days. McCrory has not commented publicly on the legislation or how he might act.

Democrats called the bills GOP power grabs occurring only after McCrory conceded his close race last week. They pleaded with Republicans to back off, or at least consider the measures after Cooper takes office and the legislature begins its two-year work session next month.

Brian Fitzsimmons, a Wake County Democratic leader, said during public comment on one of the bills that what was happening was wrong.

"This is not the way good and reasonable and honest people govern," Fitzsimmons said. "Stop using this body as a means of our desire to achieve greater power."

Republicans said the bills were good ideas on their own but could otherwise fall to political pressure except during a transition from one governor to another.

"There is no other time to run this," said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, about a bill that would merge the state elections and ethics boards. "This is the opportunity."

Cooper, the outgoing attorney general who becomes governor on Jan. 1, ran on the narrative of fighting the right-leaning agenda McCrory and fellow Republicans have initiated over the past four years in the closely divided state. He said he would work to repeal a law known as House Bill 2 that limits LGBT rights.

Cooper said Thursday he would fight any bill he considers unconstitutional and perhaps even sue to prevent it taking effect.

"If I believe that laws passed by the legislature hurt working families and are unconstitutional, they will see me in court," Cooper told reporters.

Legislation would require Cooper to send his choices for Cabinet secretaries to the Senate for confirmation. The state Constitution allows the Senate to confirm a governor's appointments, but that power largely hasn't been used for at least decades.

"This bill is a good step forward in reasserting legislative authority vested by the constitution and entrusted to the members of this body," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, on the House floor. The confirmation legislation also would direct the legislature to revive its constitutional prerogative and take over the governor's authority to name some members to trustee boards of University of North Carolina campuses.

Republicans flexing their muscle against Cooper have pointed to past sessions of the General Assembly, when it was dominated by Democrats. Democrats stripped the powers of the first and only GOP lieutenant governor of the 20th Century in the late 1980s. But Democrats said there's been no such widespread effort to limit the power of an incoming executive before he took office.

The General Assembly has veto-proof GOP majorities in both House and Senate, meaning Cooper will be hamstrung to push any agenda without some Republican support.

Any notion Cooper would get a honeymoon period with the legislature were dashed swiftly this week. Lawmakers began the surprise session Wednesday within minutes of adjourning another special session called by McCrory to approve a disaster relief package.

Hundreds of protesters rallied inside the Legislative Building on Wednesday and Thursday, demanding loudly that Republicans accept the will of the voters from last month's election and leave Cooper's authority alone.

"I believe fervently in democracy. I'm watching it be undermined right beneath by people who seem unwilling to consider or to listen," said protester Margaret Toman of Garner.

(KA)