Another failed N.C. power play

The Observer editorial board

Judges rejected Monday the N.C. General Assembly’s attempt to oversee coal ash cleanup.
Judges rejected Monday the N.C. General Assembly’s attempt to oversee coal ash cleanup. Staff Photographer

Add one member to the list of those who’ve been on the receiving end of the General Assembly’s arrogance.

It’s a not-so-exclusive club of cities and towns, councils and commissions that have been disregarded by a Republican legislature that believes it can do pretty much everything it wants – and doesn’t like to be told otherwise.

Welcome, Gov. McCrory.

The governor got a close-up view of the legislature’s brazenness Monday after a three-judge panel ruled that McCrory had authority to appoint members of certain N.C. commissions. McCrory had sued for that authority last year after the legislature created a Coal Ash Commission to oversee the cleanup of coal ash ponds. McCrory cried foul then because such oversight belonged to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Regardless of what you think of the job DENR has done with coal ash, the governor is right. Historically, legislatures enact laws and the executive branch carries them out. By giving itself the power to appoint members of the Coal Ash Commission and two others, the General Assembly was snatching power that belonged to the administration.

The three-judge panel – led by Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning – not only disagreed with the legislature’s interpretation of constitutional balance, it slapped the notion down rather harshly. “Borderline specious,” said the ruling of the General Assembly’s arguments.

Did Republican leaders bow to the clear, unanimous ruling and take a pass on the appeal they’re entitled to? Of course not. “We are disappointed in today’s decision that disregards a century of rulings from our state Supreme Court and will appeal,” said Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.

It’s the same type of stubbornness that Republicans have regularly displayed after court rulings, including when a federal judge rejected N.C.’s abortion ultrasound mandate (as other judges had done with similar mandates) and when federal courts struck down marriage bans across the country, including ours.

It’s the same type of legal cluelessness that’s prompted doomed legislation like the “Choose Life” license plate – which was promptly and predictably struck down – and the new so-called religious freedom bill that would allow magistrates to opt out of giving marriage licenses to gays.

It’s also the same type of audacity that prompted failed takeovers of Asheville’s water system and Charlotte’s airport, as well as new bills that propose changing the makeup of the Greensboro City Council and Wake County Commission without asking local voters if they even want those changes.

The governor was right to fight the commission gambit, but he is often too timid in the face of legislative aggression that he once decried as Charlotte’s mayor. He did speak up earlier this month against the proposal to restructure the Greensboro City Council, but that’s a “local bill” that doesn’t need his approval.

We hope McCrory holds to those convictions with bills he can veto. Until then, Republican leaders should give up on their coal ash power play, and the governor should remember what it feels like for the rest of us when they don’t.