A proposal on the governor's desk changes the way North Carolina would fill an open U.S. Senate seat.
If a Senate seat becomes vacant before the end of a term, current state law gives the governor the power to appoint someone of the same political party as the senator who is leaving office.
The bill that recently cleared the legislature would change the law so that the governor could pick only from a group of three people nominated by the departing senator's party.
Republicans Richard Burr and Thom Tillis occupy North Carolina's Senate seats, while Democrat Roy Cooper is in the governor's mansion. If approved, the bill ensures the GOP could prevent Cooper from appointing a liberal-leaning Republican to Tillis or Burr's seat, should they vacate the office.
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The governor's office didn't respond to a question about the bill.
It's unclear whether such a situation might happen. Burr, whose Senate seat is up for election in 2022, doesn't plan to leave office before his term expires, an aide said. And Tillis, whose seat is up in 2020, didn't respond to a request for comment.
This is the second time in two years that Republican legislators have pursued the change. Last year, it gained approval in the House but didn't get priority in the Senate.
Jason Saine, a Lincoln County Republican and one of the bill sponsors, offered little insight into the motivations behind the bill.
When asked if he knew whether Burr or Tillis might step down by the end of their terms, Saine responded by email.
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it," Saine said, adding a few minutes later, "Just messing with you dude. I cosponsored because I like the idea but nothing drove it on my end."
Some political observers said the bill is a sign of tension between Republicans in the legislature and Cooper.
Michael Bitzer, politics professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, described the proposal as "an insurance policy to make sure an opposing party governor doesn’t appoint someone that would be 'weak' in a general election."
A governor could appoint someone outside of the opposing party's core "and cause a heavily contested intra-party fight for no reason," Bitzer said.
Andrew Taylor, political science professor at N.C. State University, agreed with Bitzer's assessment and suggested the bill could be another Republican swipe at Cooper.
"Perhaps they fear the kind of corruption that surrounded Rod Blagojevich's 'selling' of the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama in late 2008," he added. "Perhaps it's just another way to limit gubernatorial power."
Republicans have made several attempts to limit the governor's power since Cooper unseated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016.
They revamped state and local elections boards, reduced the number of jobs appointed by the governor, made his Cabinet picks subject to Senate approval and took away his authority to make appointments to University of North Carolina system boards of trustees.
A new proposal out this week from state Senate Republicans would ask voters to change the state Constitution to shift power from the governor to lawmakers in replacing judges who leave office.
While a sign of distrust, the bill could also be a good thing for Democrats, said Thomas Mills, a Democratic strategist. If the situation were reversed — Democrats held a Senate seat and a Republicans controlled the governor's office — Democrats would want the chance to choose replacement nominees, he said.
"Say Democrats win Tillis' seat and Tillis or a Republican becomes governor. Democrats don't want Republicans picking their appointee either," Mills said. "I think both parties would appreciate this law."