Roy Cooper’s unnecessary grandstanding

The Observer editorial board

Roy Cooper was clumsy last week after a U.S. Supreme Court win.
Roy Cooper was clumsy last week after a U.S. Supreme Court win. AP

Last week should have been a good one for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. It began with the country’s highest court dealing his nemesis, N.C. Republicans, a blow in a case involving state legislative maps. It was the third time this year the U.S. Supreme Court has told Republicans that racially gerrymandered districts they’ve drawn were unconstitutional.

For Democrats – and anyone who believes in a fair vote – that’s a promising development. Then Cooper made what we’ll charitably call a rookie mistake.

On Wednesday, the governor called for a special 14-day session for the legislative branch to draw new maps for the legislative districts involved in the Supreme Court ruling. It was an unusual request, given that the legislature was already at work in Raleigh. Republicans promptly rejected the extra session and accused the governor of grandstanding.

They’re right. The governor’s move was clumsy. It made him look nakedly political – and at least a little silly – while pulling off the difficult feat of having N.C. Republicans look like the responsible ones in the room.

It also was exactly what North Carolinians don’t need if the ultimate goal is to get fair voting districts for state and congressional elections. By rubbing Republicans’ noses in the Supreme Court decision, Cooper reinforced the acrimony between Democrats and Republicans in Raleigh, making compromise on this issue even more unlikely than it already is.

Republicans, of course, have responded in kind, calling Cooper’s special session both unconstitutional and premature. The claim of unconstitutionality is debatable – Cooper can call for special sessions for what he believes are extraordinary circumstances. But he did so too soon in this case. When Cooper called for the special session Wednesday, the challengers in Monday’s Supreme Court decision had yet to even submit a request to federal judges asking for guidance and a quick resolution to fix the gerrymandered districts.

That request came on Thursday, and three federal judges responded the next day, telling legislative leaders, the state elections board and “the state” to submit statements that address several issues in the case “as expeditiously as possible.” Those issues include the potential disruptions a special election might cause this year, as well as who speaks for the state when addressing questions such as who should be responsible for drawing the maps.

That’s a lot for the judges to sort out, and little can be done on new maps until they do so. The governor surely knew this – or surely should have. He didn’t need to serve notice to Republicans; the courts were already doing so. He didn’t need to do a victory dance – at least not if he wants a better shot at a bigger victory later.

That victory would come in the form of maps that are drawn in a bipartisan fashion – or better, redistricting reform that takes partisanship out of the process. Either option will require some give from Republicans in the General Assembly. Yes, that’s a long shot, but there’s no shot at all if the governor doesn’t try to reach across the aisle.

Instead, Roy Cooper took the easy political path. He dug in, Republicans did the same, and a good week turned into just another week in Raleigh.