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A dangerous power grab at the legislature

Senate bill would fire 131 public servants, but not for cause

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  • The proposed victims

    Coastal Resources Advisory Council: 41 appointees

    Coastal Resources Commission: 15

    Environmental Management Commission: 13

    Industrial Commission: 6

    Lottery Commission: 9

    N.C. Turnpike Authority: 8

    Utilities Commission: 7

    Wildlife Resources Commission: 19

    12 Superior Court judges

    SBOE Chair Larry Leake



Elections have consequences, the old saw goes, and in North Carolina those consequences are limited only by Republican leaders’ imaginations. On Tuesday, the consequences expanded to include 131 heads on a platter.

The Senate Rules Committee passed a bill on party lines Tuesday that fires every member of eight key boards and commissions. Once that dirty work is done, the bill states, the Republicans will replace them with their hand-picked substitutes.

That’s politics, you might say, but Sen. Bill Rabon’s bill goes far beyond routine politics. It’s one of the more blatant power grabs in state history, and would clear the way for unchecked ideological policymaking from commissions designed to be independent and non-ideological. It gets rid of public servants before their terms end and without regard to their expertise, experience or quality of service.

Rabon acknowledged as much. He said the terminations had nothing to do with job performance but would just let the commissions be filled with appointees who “are more like-minded and willing to carry out the philosophy of the new administration.”

“This administration should begin to wield its power,” Rabon said.

The party in power, of course, rightfully has the authority to fill vacancies on state boards when they arise. It does not have the power to cut appointees’ terms short across the board. State law staggers those terms for good reason: That approach best blends a need or desire for new blood with the value of historical knowledge and subject mastery. Many of these boards oversee extremely complicated matters. Their members shouldn’t come and go every two years with election results, which state law has long recognized by providing longer, staggered terms.

The bill fires the members of six of the state’s highest-profile and most important commissions plus the Turnpike Authority and the Coastal Resources Advisory Council. It also terminates 12 special Superior Court judges and state Board of Elections Chairman Larry Leake.

In some instances, it strips requirements that have been seen as protecting the public’s interest. At the Coastal Resources Commission, for instance, the governor would no longer have to appoint at least one person associated with a conservation organization. He would, however, have to appoint two experienced in land development. At the Environmental Management Commission, the governor would no longer have to appoint a doctor with experience in the health effects of environmental pollution; he would still be required to appoint a person who is employed by or recently retired from an industrial manufacturing facility.

The bill was to add two justices to the state Supreme Court, to be appointed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. That court-packing scheme, reminiscent of President Franklin Roosevelt’s failed attempt in 1937, would have let Republicans take control of the Democrat-controlled court without an election. That provision was stripped from the bill but GOP leaders promise to resurrect it later this session.

They shouldn’t. And if this bill makes it to McCrory’s desk, he should veto it, for the sake of his state. This is more than the winners enjoying the spoils. It is a dangerous abuse of power.

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