The scene on the House floor today was an exercise in civil disobedience. Democrats, one by one, stood and officially defied the Republicans’ vote to hold an extra special session — a session whose agenda is known only to those holding the majority of political power.
“I’m formally joining the protest,” each lawmaker announced, following the lead of Rep. Darren Jackson of Wake County, who filed the protest.
Republicans didn’t notify their fellow Democratic lawmakers of the extra special session; nor were Democrats among the required three-fifths of the House and the Senate members who agreed to call it.
“Legislating in the dark — it doesn’t seem to matter, said House Minority Leader Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat, who called a press conference after the House recessed. “There’s no question most of the action we’re going to see will be heard in the courts.”
Hall compared today’s power grab to the Wilmington riots of 1898. That’s when white racist Democrats won an election by stuffing the ballot boxes. Two days afterward, the Wilmington Race Riot broke out, and whites — among them clergymen, lawyers, bankers and merchants — gunned down African-Americans. At least 25 were killed, although unofficial numbers put that figure at more than 100, including bodies that were dumped in the river.
“In 1898, people didn’t like the vote and they decided to terrorize the town,” Hall said. “In those days, people used physical violence. We’re in a new era when the vote is sought to become meaningless through legislative tactics.”
Republican lawmakers are mixing a potpourri of legislation that could be voted on this evening. The legislation is expected to, among other actions, enact regulatory reforms that failed earlier this year. It’s also rumored that there will be a bill to limit the authority of the executive branch — power that was expanded under Gov. Pat McCrory.
“We’re here after a Republican governor lost the election,” said Hall, who filed two bills yesterday, one asking for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, the other for a restoration of early voting. “Now the Republicans seek to nullify the will of the people by stripping away the powers of the governor.”
McCrory had called the first special session to appropriate $200 million in disaster relief for counties devastated by Hurricane Matthew and the western wildfires. “We came down here for a legitimate reason,” Hall said, referring to the Disaster Recovery Act of 2016. The bill passed both chambers. “That business has been dispensed with. We should be going home.”
Instead, Hall said, “we are now here on a purely partisan agenda to nullify the vote of the people. It should be clear what it is. We should not bite our tongues and look the other way.”
The filing deadline for bills in the Senate is 5 p.m.; in the House it’s 7 p.m.