McCrory signs Senate Bill 4 in less than an hour; appoints chief of staff’s wife to Industrial Commission

Gov. Pat McCrory

Well, that was fast. Less than an hour after Senate Bill 4 made it back to the Senate after it was passed in the House, Gov. Pat McCrory signed it into law and then recommended his chief of staff’s wife as an appointment to the Industrial Commission.

The outgoing governor has not responded to multiple requests for comment about the special session, and there had been speculation about whether or not he would sign legislation that came from the surprise fourth special session of the year.

House Speaker Tim Moore made the announcement that the bill was signed. The bill will create a bipartisan Board of Elections and ethics agency, reestablish partisan elections for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, modify the appellate court process and allow McCrory to fill a vacancy on the Industrial Commission.

Yolanda Stith’s name was put forth a short time later in the Senate session. She is currently the Executive Director at North Carolina Association Long Term Care Facilities and the wife of Thomas Stith, McCrory’s chief of staff. She was previously a lobbyist.

Democrats steadfastly voted against Senate Bill 4. They also voiced their opposition and concern about everything from the timing and the power grabs to partisan judicial elections and adding a layer of appeal.

Senators and Representatives also spoke boldly about their disdain for the special session as a whole. Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, said it was not democracy at work, but despotism.

[Tweet “The only disaster relief we seek now is to save ourselves from this disastrous legislature. -Jay Chaudhuri”]”The only disaster relief we seek now is to save ourselves from this disastrous legislature,” he said. “The voters did not send us here to re-litigate events from 40 years ago. We’re not here to exact revenge on each other nor expand our powers.”

Neither the House nor Senate have adjourned yet.

The startling dishonesty of the power grabbers

One of the most striking things about the unprecedented power grabbing currently underway at the General Assembly is the dishonesty of some of the people leading the offensive effort.

Case in point is House Rules Chair David Lewis, who as we reported this week, started the disaster relief session claiming that House leaders were being as “transparent as they can” when Lewis and other lawmakers had signed a letter two days before calling for another special session for all the power grabbing.

Lewis was simply not telling the truth—and he lied again Thursday defending the proposal to reduce the number of political jobs in state government that serve at the pleasure of the governor from 1,500 to 300.

Lewis and his Republicans colleagues increased the number of political jobs from 500 to 1,500 in 2013 after McCrory took office.   Here is Lewis’ justification for reducing the number now,  as reported by the News & Observer.

We have worked to modernize state government and the high number of exemptions, not used by the current governor, are being restored to a number and level that is consistent with the authority granted to past administrations,” said House Rules Chairman David Lewis, who sponsored the bill.

So slashing the number of political jobs is not a big deal according to Lewis, because McCrory hasn’t used the additional positions.

That is simply not true. The N&O again.

And McCrory has actually used much of his current appointment power, with about 1,400 positions currently designated as exempt from civil service protections.

Got that? Lewis defended his proposal to limit Governor Roy Cooper’s ability to hire his own people by intentionally misstating how many political hires McCrory made.

The offensive last minute special session to thwart the will of the voters is bad enough.  Legislative leaders ought to at least have the guts to own up to what they are doing and why they are doing it—and stop lying about it.

Even Pope group, former GOP governor join opposition to legislative power play

Lest anyone find themselves falling for the absurd claim emanating from GOP excuse makers in the state Legislative Building that this week’s special session power play is just “business as usual” in North Carolina politics, think again. It is, in fact, an unprecedented and outrageous assault on democracy that lawmakers are taking so many enormously complicated and important concepts readjusting the fundamentals of state government from the back of the envelope to state law in just a few hours.

But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to the words of prominent conservative groups and politicians.

Last night, I had the opportunity to appear on Time Warner Cable’s Capital Tonight program with Mitch Kokai of the conservative, Art Pope-funded John Locke Foundation (click here and go to about 15:30 mark to watch) and even Kokai was highly critical of what’s going on.

As he noted, the lack of process in the special session “causes lots of problems for anyone who wants to see good government” and “to see this being done as it’s being done, has to raise some red flags.”

Meanwhile former Republican Governor Jim Martin told Raleigh’s News & Observer that lawmakers have “gone too far” in grabbing the powers of Gov.-elect Ropy Cooper for themselves.

The criticisms from the Locke Foundation and Martin, of course, echo the scathing critiques of the session that have been coming from major news outlet editorials. On this front, perhaps none put it better than this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com:

“Amid the sorry spectacle, we see a fundamental question North Carolinians must ask: What kind of person puts partisan politics above the orderly functioning of state government?

This special session is giving us a clear answer to that question – every GOP legislator who votes for these ‘get even’ bills is guilty of that sorry charge.

They are motivated, not by seeking to do good for the state, but by imposing their personal partisan and ideological views, regardless of the popular will. They maintain power by unconstitutionally manipulating election laws and gerrymandering representative districts.

Now, when a majority of the state’s voters picked a new governor not of their liking, they are rushing to make ill-conceived changes in essential functions of state government, strip the governor of long-standing authority and duties while dishing out plum state jobs and judicial appointments to their political pals.

It is not a picture of political prowess and finesse. Rather it is a portrait of the arrogant ham-handedness of grown-up school yard bullies.”

Stay tuned throughout the day as NC Policy Watch continuing coverage of the special session continues.

Bills push forward in House, Senate as protestors disrupt meetings, get arrested

Protest sign that says Democracy is so overrated

Numerous protesters disrupted House and Senate meetings Thursday at the General Assembly’s fourth special session of the year. Photo by Melissa Boughton

It was a busy night in the Legislative Building. It started in the Senate, where lawmakers reconvened just before 4 p.m. and took up Senate Bill 4.

The 25-page bill, if it becomes law, would create a bipartisan Board of Elections and ethics agency, reestablish partisan elections for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, modify the appellate court process and allow outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory to fill a vacancy on the Industrial Commission.

Despite objections from Democratic senators, the bill passed 30-16 along party lines and was moved to the House, where legislators planned to take it up just before 8:30 p.m. at an Elections Committee meeting. If it passes there, the bill will move to the House finance committee, set to meet at 8 a.m. Friday.

Sen. Jane Smith, D-Columbus and Robeson, called the piece of legislation an egregious power grab and said lawmakers used Hurricane Matthew as a ruse and its victims as a ploy to get them to Raleigh.

Republican Senators said what they were doing was minor in comparison to what Democrats had done in the past and brought up political events as far back as 1976.

Democratic leader, Sen. Dan Blue of Wake took Senators to task for seeking vengeance and putting their own interests above the interests of North Carolinians.

“It’s not fair to compare 21st century North Carolina to 19th century North Carolina,” Blue said, adding that he believes in fairness but the Old Testament way of an eye for an eye was not right. “The end result of that is we end up with a lot of blind, snaggletoothed people.”

During the Senate meeting, the gallery was emptied and the public and reporters were locked out of the proceeding. Protesters who were in the gallery were warned about disruptions before being asked to leave. No one was yelling at the time the decision was made to clear the gallery. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said that gestures were considered a disruption.

Not long after, protesters filled the House gallery and the hall outside. They shouted loudly several phrases, including, “all political power comes from the people,” and sang together for quite some time. The House gallery was also eventually cleared and the doors locked, but not before about 17 people were arrested, including NC Policy Watch reporter Joe Killian, who was covering the proceeding at the time.

Protesters in the hall were asked to leave as well, under threat that the Capital Police would begin arresting them. Most cleared out, but a few dozen returned a short time later and watched the House meeting from the hall.

The House continued despite the protests and passed House Bill 17 with 70-36 votes along party lines. The bill goes to extraordinary lengths to strip Governor-elect Roy Cooper’s power, slashing the number exempt positions he can oversee from 1,500 to 300 and eliminating his ability to make appointments to university boards of trustees.

Democrats in the House had similar objections to their Senate counterparts about the motivation for the special session. Rep. Philip Lehman, D-Durham, said he had received 3,000 emails from North Carolinians objecting to the lack of transparency of the session. Republicans said they were sick of being chastised and that a lot of the bills did not bring about new discussions.

House Speaker Tim Moore also addressed the empty gallery after a Representative asked if he would re-open the doors to the public. He condemned protesters and said they encroached on the rights of all North Carolinians by disrupting the meeting. He added that the audio stream of the meeting was sufficient to keep it open to the public.

The House also passed House Bill 10, which could mean public and private schools would be reimbursed for road projects mandated by cities.

The House will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Friday and the Senate at 8:30 a.m. The House is expected to take up House Bill 13 on Friday, which would modify the maximum average class size requirements for kindergarten through third grade.

NC Policy Watch reporter arrested as he attempted to cover debate in state House of Representatives

Statement from NC Justice Center Executive Director Rick Glazier and NC Policy Watch Director Chris Fitzsimon on arrest of NC Policy Watch reporter during special session

RALEIGH (December 15, 2016) — Joe Killian, one of our credentialed NC Policy Watch reporters, was arrested this evening while doing his job covering a large protest in the gallery of the House of Representatives.

He was not protesting. He was simply covering the incident and was arrested when he refused to stop covering the news.

We respect the House of Representatives as an institution and the Speaker’s authority, as well as that of security for the General Assembly.

We believe in the end the judicial process will resolve this issue and find our reporter was simply exercising his right to cover the news as it was unfolding in front of him.