Column: Roy Cooper confronts the GOP power grab
Posted December 21, 2016
From the CBC Opinion Editor: Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016
The following is a column by Seth Effron, opinion editor for Capitol Broadcasting Company. A version of this column has also been published in the Outer Banks Sentinel.
Seldom has there been a spectacle of raw political power as vivid as was witnessed last week in the North Carolina General Assembly. In moves that made headlines around the nation, the Republican-dominated General Assembly usurped significant power and authority that had been held by governors – Democrats and Republicans – for decades.
While Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper isn’t in a position to directly confront the hyper partisanship of the General Assembly, only those North Carolinians with short memories could conclude that the passivity and acquiescence to the legislative leadership displayed by outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s tenure will be repeated.
Since his earliest days in North Carolina government, Cooper has shown a determination to confront abuses of power. And if history is a guide, expect the new governor to seek compromises where they can be found and to be firm without making the kind of personal slights that would further enflame the divisive atmosphere in Raleigh.
Twenty-seven years ago, with a mere single term in the state House of Representatives behind him, Cooper joined with 19 other Democrats and 45 Republicans to form a coalition that ousted the long-entrenched, and often dictatorial, Democratic leadership.
Powerful House Speaker Liston Ramsey and his much-despised Budget Committee Chairman Billy Watkins were dramatically overthrown.
The contentious two years following the coup seem today merely a prelude to the increasing divisiveness that has been the hallmark of the General Assembly since – particularly over the last six years.
The bitterness and distrust of the 1989 coup clouded nearly every legislative interaction. But, upon reflection nearly three decades later, the entrenched and often abusive leadership that was tossed aside, needed to go. It took savvy and determination for a 32-year-old, one-term legislator to take it on.
While Republican leaders contend the actions taken last week were merely moves to get-even with past Democratic efforts taken toward GOP governors, they actually went much further.
For example, Republicans continued to control the state and local boards of elections when Republicans James Holshouser, Jim Martin and McCrory were governors. Those governors weren’t required to have their cabinet appointees confirmed by the General Assembly either.
Unlike McCrory, who came into office with no state-level government experience and even less dealing with political acrimony or bitter partisanship, Cooper knows how to navigate in a competitive and too-often mean environment.
Cooper didn’t whine or moan as the General Assembly passed laws limiting his authority and minimizing his influence over policy and the direction of the state. Nor did he lash out in anger. But he did let legislators know that he wouldn’t be bulldozed.
“The courts will have to clean up the mess the legislature’s made, but it won’t stop us from moving North Carolina forward,” Cooper said after the legislature adjourned on Dec. 16.
Cooper won’t opt for simple confrontation – that’s not his style. He has repeatedly said he will look for ways to work with Republicans in the General Assembly and seek to build coalitions around issues and initiatives.
In the legislature these days, compromise, particularly with Democrats, is an alien concept – witness the slashing of the governor’s authority and power during last week’s surprise extra session.
Cooper will find his patience, determination and finesse tested on a daily basis as he seeks to assert his agenda and leadership against GOP legislative leaders who revel in turning every exchange into do-or-die confrontations.