General Assembly moves to dramatically limit new governor’s powers

The North Carolina General Assembly’s GOP majority moved to dramatically limit the powers of the governor’s office Wednesday as Democratic Governor-Elect Roy Cooper prepares to take office next month.

House Bill 17, filed late Wednesday during a special session called without warning to Democratic lawmakers, is the widest ranging example.

The bill would strip the incoming governor of his ability to appoint members to the boards University of North Carolina system schools.

It would also reduce the number of state employees can hire or fire from 1,500 to 300 – a number the legislature actually expanded under GOP governor Pat McCrory.

In a move never discussed during McCrory’s term as governor, the bill would also make each of Cooper’s cabinet appointments confirmable by the N.C. Senate, with its Republican majority.

In a separate move, the assembly changed the rules of the special session to allow confirmation of two Special Superior Court judges appointed by McCrory before he leaves office. The appointees are conservative Charlotte attorney Adam Conrad and Andrew Heath, who now serves as McCrory’s budget director.

Rep. David Lewis , chairman of the House Rules Committee, telegraphed the intention of the bill – and a number of others filed Wednesday – in comments to reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“You will see the General Assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the executive branch,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the GOP intended to communicate that “we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing this state.”

In comments to the News & Observer Wednesday night, Lewis acknowledged the bill was prompted by a Democrat moving into the governor’s mansion.

“Some of the stuff we’re doing, obviously if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on,” Lewis said. “But a lot of this stuff would have been done anyway and has been talked about for quite some time.”

The Republican super-majority in the House and Senate did have clashes even with McCrory over his one term as governor. Despite sharing a party, the legislature overturned several of the governor’s vetoes and even went to court with him in struggles over authority in the state. But no bill such as HB17 – or many of the other bills filed Wednesday that move to limit Cooper’s appointments or move – were attempted during his term in office.

The move comes after McCrory lost a bitter gubernatorial race to Cooper by more than 10,000 votes and fought the results for a month before finally conceding. McCrory, the only incumbent governor in the nation not to be re-elected, is now being considered for a position in President-Elect Donald Trump’s new administration.

The state Democratic party railed against the bills in a release Wednesday night.

“This is an unprecedented, shameful and cowardly power grab from Republicans,” said party spokesman Jamal Little in the release. “After losing the Governor’s office, the GOP-controlled General Assembly is attempting to hold on to the power that voters took away from them.”

“Make no mistake, the legislation we are seeing today are attempts from Republicans to usurp power from Governor-elect Roy Cooper after losing the election,” Little said. “Republicans should be ashamed of these unprecedented power grabs that have no place in our democracy.”

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