Ah! So THAT’S What’s Going On In North Carolina!

Somehow the story isn't clear without Elsa in the picture, it it?

Somehow the story isn’t clear without Elsa in the picture, it it?

While national Democrats were desperately and embarrassingly search for some way, any way, to overturn the election of Donald Trump, the mania reaching apotheosis in the unhinged rantings of Michael Moore—“Trump is not president until 12 noon on Jan 20th. So we’ll continue to fight & hope to find a legal, nonviolent way to stop this madness,” the “madness” known as “losing an election”—Democrats, news media, and op-ed writers in the New York Times (but I repeat myself) have been loudly condemning the North Carolina Assembly as part of a condemnation of Republicans generally. After narrowly losing the State House, the overwhelmingly Republican legislature has been passing measures to limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor  in a lame-duck legislative session. The changes drastically reduce the number of officials the governor can appoint within state government, require legislative confirmation of Cabinet-level appointments, eliminate partisan majorities in the state board of elections and strip the governor of the power to make appointments to the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees.

This is, according to Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, for example, a “last-minute power grab” that “marks an alarming departure from basic democratic norms—a blatant attempt to overturn the results of an election by curtailing judicial independence and restructuring the government to seize authority lawfully delegated to the incoming Democratic governor.” By the end, he is foaming at the mouth with indignation:

“What’s happening in North Carolina is not politics as usual. It is an extraordinarily disturbing legislative coup, a flagrant effort to maintain one-party rule by rejecting democratic norms and revoking the will of the voters. It is the kind of thing we might expect to see in Venezuela, not a U.S. state. It should terrify every American citizen who believes in the rule of law. This is so much more than a partisan power grab. This is an attack on democracy itself.”

I was preparing to write something similar, but unlike Stern, I did some research first. What I discovered, however, thanks to the work of Volokh Conspiracy contributor Jonathan Adler, a Case Western law professor, was that as unethical as the General Assembly’s power grab is, the tactic is business as usual in the Tarheel State. Adler points his readers to the research of John Hood, who informs us…

Precisely four times in modern North Carolina history, voters have elected a new governor or lieutenant governor of one party and legislative majorities of the other party. In all four instances, the legislature stripped the newly elected executives of some power.

In the first three instances — Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser’s election in 1972, Republican Gov. Jim Martin’s election in 1984, and Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner’s election in 1988 — a Democratic legislature did the stripping. As Martin’s biographer, I’m most familiar with his experience. Lawmakers limited his ability to staff agencies (including the State Board of Elections), subjected other appointments to constraints or confirmation, and withdrew gubernatorial control over state construction and administrative hearings, among other actions.

In each case, Republicans cried foul. Democrats insisted they were simply carrying out North Carolina’s longstanding preference for legislative supremacy….

Democrats upset with the special session might have been more persuasive had they chosen a different rhetorical strategy. Every time they accused GOP lawmakers of “unprecedented” acts, of “contempt for democracy,” of being “sore losers” and the like, all Republicans heard was hypocrisy. What happened in 2016 was different in detail, but not much in degree, from what happened in the past. A better argument would have been, “Yes, we Democrats went too far when we were in power. It often came back to bite us. Don’t make the same mistake.”

I am all for breaking the cycle. That will inspire greater trust and long-term thinking, from both sides.

That pretty well sums up my position too.

However, to place the events in North Carolina and the conduct of the legislature in proper perspective, it is not just useful but essential to know the history and precedent involved.  Never mind, though. For a lot of alleged journalists and partisan hacks, the less the public understands the better it is for promoting partisan polarization. (More Moore, telling MSNBC;s Chris Hayes, telling MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, “You have to admire conservatives and Republicans. They are so brazen. They don’t care.They just go for it.” Hayes, in turn, did not choose to enlighten Moore or his viewers regarding North Carolina political tradition.)

Rob Christensen, chief political writer for the News & Observer, also notes the inconvenient truth about North Carolina:

When Gov. Pat McCrory took office in 2013, the GOP legislature expanded the number of positions exempt from civil service protections from 400 under Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue to 1,500 – the highest cap ever. This allowed McCrory to hire more Republicans. Now, under a bill awaiting McCrory’s signature or veto, lawmakers are proposing to reduce the number to 425 in what is apparently an effort to protect Republican state employees and prevent the hiring of Democrats.

But Democrats invented this practice. The 1985 Democratic legislature placed the first cap ever on newly elected Republican Gov. Jim Martin, limiting him to 325 exempt positions.The whole business of mass firings in state government pretty much began with the election of Democrat Kerr Scott in 1948, a Jacksonian figure who beat the more conservative machine. North Carolina was a one-party state then so this was factional Democratic warfare.

As Adler correctly points out, this history does not excuse what North Carolina Republicans have done. “Such reforms are much more credible when they are enacted in a way that does not create immediate partisan advantage, as could be accomplished if the reforms take effect only after an intervening election,” he writes. That isn’t the point of this post, however, though I agree completely.

The news media misrepresents the events by framing them as a unique and signature example of Republican defiance of democracy, and that is largely what every single news sources has done—even the Washington Post, which has left readers to track down an online and arcane legal blog on its website rather than to clarify the issues in its reporting.

No, the fact that in North Carolina “everybody does it” can’t justify what the Republican legislature is trying to do now. However, that fact does significantly change the meaning of the events. “Both parties do this” is materially different from “look what those evil Republicans are doing now; how disgusting, but then, you know how Republicans are.” Indeed, it is a different story entirely, and a false one.

Fake news, in fact.

8 Comments

Filed under Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media

8 responses to “Ah! So THAT’S What’s Going On In North Carolina!

  1. Never mind the incredible hypocrisy of throwing this justifiable hissy fit about Republicans undermining an incoming Democrat governor while simultaneously throwing an unjustifiable national level hissy fit IN ORDER TO undermine an incoming Republican President.

    No shame.

  2. No biggie, Jack, but I think the character is Ilsa.

  3. Jack, top-down-driven “culture changes” seem to be happening everywhere:

    http://www.houstonpress.com/news/incoming-da-kim-ogg-prepares-to-fire-dozens-of-prosecutors-9034289

    I was hoping to read a comment from “our” attorney in Houston, Mr. Burger (“JVB”), regarding DA-elect Ogg’s move.

    I think it’s just another sign of the banana republicanism our was-country is devolving into. Next up: routine prosecutions of unseated incumbents and former office-holders, along with exceptions to powers of pardoning.

    • Luckyesteeyoreman,

      I have been following this story. Kim Ogg won by defeating Devon Anderson, the incumbent Republican DA. It was a nasty, bitter campaign. Anderson accused Ogg of being openly lesbian in a number of political ads, most of which were absolutely awful. Anderson asked the citizenry if they could trust a liberal, Democrat lesbian as their DA. The ads failed miserably. Ogg has been a feature for many years in Houston as an advocate for victims’ rights. She has been heavily involved with Crime Stoppers, among other groups, and she is popular.

      Ogg, on the other hand, behaved just as horribly. She accused Anderson of jailing a sexual assault victim but the truth is the complainant showed up on the date of trial and then disappeared. The complainant then became unmanageable and uncooperative, and may have had a breakdown on the stand. The DA’s office decided that she was a danger to herself and had her committed for evaluation, but she was transferred to the county jail. Ogg used that case as a bludgeon to show that Anderson doesn’t care about rape victims. Anderson’s position was that she followed the letter of the law but couldn’t clearly state why the victim had been transferred to a county jail instead of a hospital or shelter for rape victims. Anderson may have suffered as a result by losing but she may have lost anyway as most of the city and county elected positions went Democrat – lots of incumbent judges registered as Republicans got the proverbial boot.

      As with most new administrations, Ogg’s decision to fire staff is not unheard of in Houston. The way she did it, though, is new: She summarily dismissed them by email. There is some allegation that the recently unemployed DAs are torpedoing cases to make her look bad (which I hope is not true because that would violate a whole different set of ethics rules for DAs and attorneys). According AB13, “While a list of names was not provided, ABC13 sources suggest it includes mostly veterans at the Chief and Division Chief level. They are prosecutors who make decisions about how cases are prosecuted instead of directly working with defense attorneys and juries. The exception is high-profile cases – sources suggest the prosecutors on the Josue Flores & Deputy Darren Goforth murder cases were among the group let go.

      “Ogg assured the public she will hire a diverse group of prosecutors from inside and outside of the current staff to fill the management roles and prosecute those cases.” Here is a link:

      http://abc13.com/news/newly-elected-da-sends-37-prosecutors-packing/1660034/

      (Commenter’s Note: While the Goforth case is tragic, the political fallout as a result of the sheriff’s office’s den of inequity has been fun to watch. It involved a black male shooting an off-duty sheriff’s deputy at point-blank range in the back of the head, killing him as he filled his car with gas on a Friday evening. The whole Houston area turned out in support of the deputy and his family [he left a wife and two young children behind], as one would expect, but also because it happened in connection or in conjunction with Ferguson, MI, Michael Brown, and Black Lives Matter. However, it appears that the good deputy was not the stellar civil servant most believed. It turns out that he was having an affair with a woman who worked in the sheriff’s office, and is believed to have been “involved” with at least two high ranking detectives, and at least one other sheriff has been terminated for inappropriate communications with this person.)

      jvb

      .

      • Many thanks Sir, for the details about that DA election race! I was surprised to read of the Anderson campaign’s playing of a lesbian card, especially so soon after Mayor Parker’s days. I guess within Texas, there are now two metropolitan areas that are reliably blue – Austin and Houston. (I said that without checking El Paso, which without looking, I am guessing is blue.) From what you say of Ogg, aside from her endorsement of nasty campaigning, she doesn’t sound half bad. Anderson must have won her term as one of the last Republicans to be agreeable to the voters in a city that is evolving ever bluer. It’s saddening about the sheriff’s office, all the way around. Warm regards and best wishes in this season!

  4. Man. Valkygrrl was angling for a post on this. I figured she or her ilk would’ve contributed to this by now.

  5. zoebrain

    All you need to know – the NCGOP promised that if Charlotte repealed uts ordinance, they’d repeal HB2 immediately, no strings attached.

    Charlotte repealed its ordinance.

    HB2 didn’t even come close to being repealed with no strings attached, abd remains in force after the special session called solely to repeal it.

    Integrity, trust, honor… What matters is naked power.

  6. Turn about is fair play… even if it is unethical. (sigh)

    There will be a lot more of this as the former conservatives descend to the liberal level of the past 50 years. It is no longer about principles, it is about power, and the disenfranchised joining in on the parade.

    Not good

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