The N.C. General Assembly has adjourned – at least for a short while – bringing a collective sigh of relief to most North Carolinians. The old saying, probably incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain, that “no man’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session” was never more true in the eyes of many of our citizens than this year. The veto-proof Republican majority and the iron-fisted caucus control by GOP leadership made for a long and often painful session for Gov. Roy Cooper and those citizens not enamored by the GOP’s conservative agenda.
Cooper lambasted the budget passed by the General Assembly as “the most fiscally irresponsible budget, I’ve ever seen.” He quickly vetoed it, only to have the veto promptly stuffed down his proverbial political throat by the GOP override. The session (and the late December Christmas special sessions) also rammed through a series of measures limiting the governor’s powers in numerous ways. It was political hardball comparable to the old St. Louis Cardinal Bob Gibson’s philosophy of pitching, which supposedly included his willingness to throw a high, hard fastball at his mother’s head if she was crowding the plate.
For all those newcomers and “youngsters” aghast at this raw display of political power, I’ve got news for you. This crowd of Republicans learned from the best over a hundred-year period of residing in the political wilderness. The Democrats who controlled the General Assembly all those years knew a thing or two about repressing political opposition and cramming through legislation that they wanted. I was a college freshman working as an intern/photographer for WSOC-TV News eons ago in 1965. The Republicans back then numbered barely over a handful and had to have a Democrat co-sponsor to even be able to introduce a bill. Rarely were they recognized in floor debate and their input on prospective legislation was routinely ignored.
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Now, whether they’re cooking the books on redistricting or stripping the newly elected Democratic governor of appointments and powers, this group of Republicans simply doesn’t care what the opposition or anyone else thinks. It’s power politics – and if necessary, good government be damned. And that’s where this legislative session really bothers me. There were a number of good laws passed by the 2017 General Assembly and frankly, lots in the budget that was commendable. Sure, we can disagree on spending amounts or lack of spending for specific budget items, but overall the budget was, in fact, pretty good.
That said, the punitive nature of some of the provisions and the lack of fundamental good government process tarnished the result of this year’s session. The draconian stripping of Democrat Attorney General Josh Stein’s budget with no debate or discussion is simply unacceptable. This kind of hardball politics doesn’t just “punish” a political opponent but jeopardizes the critical work of the attorney general’s office. Stripping the Court of Appeals of three of its 15 judges in order to keep the governor from making appointments to replace retiring Republican judges is short-sighted and overtly politicizes the judiciary at a time when we need to be moving to de-politicize it. And merging the Ethics Commission and the Board of Elections might be a good idea, but the way it was done with no real discussion about the merits of the proposal flaunts the concept of good government.
I know and like a number of the Republican members of the General Assembly, and some I consider long-time friends. But their failure to stand up to these kinds of actions pushed strictly for partisan advantage and to punish elected officials and constituent groups that some Republicans don’t agree with is a major disappointment. We need good government and good people willing to do what is right, not just what is politically expedient. My fellow Republicans in the General Assembly can do better.
Orr, a Republican, is a former N.C. Supreme Court justice. Email: email@example.com.