We’re on-site, live-blogging commentary and background on the North Carolina General Assembly’s history-making coup d’état session, on this page. Join us as we watch the end of representative democracy in North Carolina unfold before Tar Heels’ horrified eyes.
This page does not auto-refresh; to view new comments click your browser’s refresh button occasionally. Liveblog posts appear in reverse chronological order (latest at top) below.
UPDATE #2: ABC News reports that the number of arrests at the General Assembly on Thursday and Friday totaled 56, according to Capitol Police.
Our Story So Far
While we await the currently anticipated 10:30 AM EST start of the House session, here’s what has happened so far.
As detailed last night at Daily Kos:
Friends of representative democracy have been waiting with bated breath through the past two days of the North Carolina General Assembly’s special session, called by outgoing Gov. Pat McPotty ostensibly to fund hurricane and forest fire recovery efforts. But the session, which ended today, produced more or less only that.
And then, late this afternoon, the other shoe dropped.
According to the state constitution, the state House Speaker and Senate President can themselves call a super-extra-special session of the legislature, upon the petition of two thirds of legislators. Which petition (dated last Monday!) the GOP super-majority produced immediately after gaveling the Governor’s session to a close.
Tomorrow’s extra-special-super-dooper session of the General Assembly begins at 9 AM. Preceding it at 8:30 AM will be several committee meetings (all controlled by Republicans), including the committees on Election Law, Appointments, and Redistricting. During those half-hour sessions the committees will ‘consider’ bills submitted by members, and refer them to the House and Senate for votes.
At last count, some 28 bills were introduced in a Republican blitzkrieg late last night, for consideration today. Few people actually understand what’s in all of them. But as the Raleigh News & Observer reports this morning:
One of the most far-reaching of the bills filed in the new session Wednesday night was a Senate proposal to merge the State Board of Elections with the State Ethics Commission, among other provisions.
The independent, quasi-judicial regulatory agency would have the authority to issue subpoenas and compel witnesses to testify. It would be run by an executive director and overseen by an eight-member board, evenly divided along party lines.
The governor would be given four appointments, choosing from Republican and Democratic party nominees. Two would be chosen by the House and two by the Senate.
The bill would also change the makeup of county elections boards from the current three members – two of which belong to the party of the governor – to four-member boards with an equal partisan split.
A Senate bill would shift power from the N.C. Supreme Court that will be controlled by Democrats to the 15-member state Court of Appeals that will have a Republican majority.
And as election law scholar Rick Hasen discusses at Election Law Blog:
It is much, much worse than it looks now that the bill is posted. The Democratic party appointees to the election board would chair in odd numbered years, and the Republican party appointees would chair in even numbered years (see page 4 of the bill), meaning that they would chair in each of the years in which there are legislative, congressional, and presidential elections.
The state supreme court would be limited in reviewing state constitutional and federal challenges, giving the power instead first to an en banc panel of intermediate appellate court judges (who of course are Republican majority) and limiting appeals as of right (see from pages 20 on in the bill).
If the bill passes in this form, I could see potential Voting Rights Act and federal constitutional challenges here, in part because the legislature would potentially be diluting minority voting power and making minority voters worse off, just at the time that their candidate of choice (Gov. Cooper) is poised to assume power.
Liveblog Posts (latest first):
4:50 PM EST: Three or four foolish people in the gallery start chanting “All political power comes from the people,” and slowly a dozen more join in. Opening this early Christmas gift, Speaker Moore instructs the sergeant at arms to clear the gallery. Goddamn.
And so now the sun has set on the House session, as well. The Republicans are safe to conduct their dirty business in the dark, out of the public eye.
There are one heckuva lot of people in the rotunda chanting loudly, “All political power comes from the people.” Alas, they have a lot to learn about how to use that power effectively.
This concludes our coverage of today’s NCGA session. Because all that remains to discuss is what now amounts to about 200 people feeling good about chanting, clapping, and shouting in the Capitol rotunda. About another hundred or so are attempting to shush them. Meanwhile, Republicans are hard at work undercutting their rights on the other side of the chamber doors, unseen.
4:44 PM EST: Republicans are making the argument that the Senate has the ultimate authority to appoint members to the UNC board of trustees but that, “in the past,” it has delegated this authority to the governor; it is now simply taking that authority back to itself. Unstated is the underlying logic – that because the new governor is a Democrat, the Republican majority of the Senate chooses to neuter him.
4:37 PM EST: Rep. Lucas (D) stands to express concern over the lightning speed of this session. “We and our constituents have not had any time to review this legislation. There would be ample time to do that in the next normal session. For that reason I will be voting no.”
4:32 PM EST: Now debating HB17, which would give the state Senate the power to confirm all of incoming Governor Cooper’s cabinet appointments and agency heads (which has not been the case in this state since the 1990s). The bill also takes away from the Governor the power to appoint members of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina and gives that authority to the Senate. Today’s UNC Board members are almost exclusively Republicans, appointed by a Republican governor, so this provision of the bill would prevent that from changing, even in a Democratic administration. Harassing ‘liberal’ professors and research programs at UNC has been near and dear to the hearts of NCGA Republicans for some time now, and they don’t intend to give that up easily.
4:27 PM EST: Rep. Meyer (D): “We all know that this appointment is being done as a political favor to a friend and supporter of the current governor on his way out. This is what makes people cynical about government, just to hand out benefits to our friends.”
Heath’s nomination as a Superior Court judge passes its second reading on a party line vote. Light-speed third reading of the resolution is performed, passes on party line vote. Republicans have a total of three new Superior Court judges.
4:25 PM EST: A Democratic Rep. stands to debate: “We are in an unconstitutional session of an unconstitutionally constituted body. I will be voting no, twice, on this confirmation.” Rep. Hall (D) stands to express his conviction as well that this session is unconstitutional.
4:10 PM EST: Republicans are attempting to push through three McCrory nominees so the Superior Court. Second reading passes, 70 aye, 32 no (party line). Third reading begins. Several Democrats stand to express the fact that their ‘no’ votes do not reflect on the nominees, but rather on the unconstitutional nature of this General Assembly session.
Third reading voice vote passes. McCrory has himself two new Republican Superior Court judges left in his wake.
Debate now begins on a third McCrory appointment, for a “special Superior Court judge.” McCrory is working as hard as he can to pack the Superior Court on his way out the door, and the House Republicans are doing all they can to help.
4:10 PM EST: Speaker Moore (R): “It looks like we will be here tonight and tomorrow, maybe 8:30 tomorrow or something like that. We still haven’t received the senate bill [Board of Elections ‘reform’], it will have to go through two committees before we get it. Depending on how quickly that process goes, we’ll try to take it up this evening.”
4:09 PM EST: Speaker Tim Moore (R) calls the House session to order.
3:58 PM EST: The House is scheduled to resume its session at 4:00 EST. Thus far, citizen observers are being permitted to enter the gallery. We’ll see how long that lasts.
3:32 PM EST: And that concludes our coverage of today’s senate session. The chairman was itching for any excuse to clear the gallery so that the session could proceed entirely out of the public eye. And a few over-enthusiastic hot-heads gave it to him. The sun just set on the senate; the rest of their work today will be conducted in the dark.
We’ll be back as soon as the House comes back into session, if it does.
3:26 PM EST: Chairman orders the gallery cleared because someone hissed. Pandemonium ensues. “SHAME!”
3:25 PM EST: Sen. Smith (D): “this legislation is nothing but a naked, cynical power grab.”
3:11 PM EST: Bryant: for the first six months after passage of this bill, the State Board of Elections will be composed entirely of the current members of the Ethics Commission, all of whom were appointed by Republicans. Rucho spokesperson (R): “As far as I know, there are no elections coming in the next six months.” Bryant suggests that with all the federal voting rights court cases currently hanging over the state’s head, no one is in a position to predict when the next state election will or will not be held.
3:05 PM EST: Sen. Bryant (D): “The elections board change is simply a sneaky and disingenuous move. If Democrats are not entitled to lead even when we win elections, that’s wrong. We are being forced to vote in less than 24 hours on legislation drafted in secret in which we have had no part.” Light applause from the gallery; the chairman scolds us, advising this is our last warning and, if there’s another “outburst” he will order the gallery cleared.
3:00 PM EST: The bill would also reinstate partisan elections (i.e., listing the candidates parties on the ballot) for supreme court and superior court judges. The goal here is to prevent future SNAFUs like that which, on November 8th, led to the election of an African American Democrat to the state Supreme Court.
2:56 PM EST: Today, The Governor appoints three members of his own party and two members of the opposing party to the State Board of Elections. The Rucho bill would appoint 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats, assuring stalemates. Also, the Board would be chaired by a Republican in even-number years, and by a Democrat in odd-numbered years. That would put a Republican in charge for every presidential and mid-term election. Somehow, Senate Republicans think no one will notice that.
2:52 PM EST: Sen. Rucho is recognized to explain his “Ethics and Elections Reform” bill.
“What we are proposing to do here is to consolidate the Board of Elections and Ethics Board and call it the Board of Elections and Ethics Compliance. We seek to take politics out of the electoral process.” Gallery bursts into laughter. The chairman threatens to clear the gallery if it happens again.
2:50 PM EST: Good ol’ boy is leading us in prayer: “We request that you will guide and direct every decision we make here.”
Administrivia ensues. Apparently God is big on the paperwork.
2:42 PM EST: And we’re back, as senators are slowly drifting into the senate chamber as we prepare for the august body to be gaveled into order to conduct what is frequently branded “the people’s business.”
1:21 PM EST: Both houses still in recess, as they have been for most of the day. A pretty savvy source in the Democratic caucus offers us the informed speculation that no votes will be held today until “after the 6 PM news cycle and the crowd thins out.” Personally, we ourselves won’t be thinning out until after the last gavel, so do please keep checking in here.
1:04 PM EST: The House’s current recess has just been extended to 4:00 PM EST. Our profound apologies; if we ran this circus, things would be different! Skullduggery behind closed doors is still the order of the day here at the General Assembly.
We’ll be back here at 2:30 PM EST to see if the Senate has re-convened as promised.
12:42 PM EST: This is a good time to remind you that our incredibly boring work – both mega-data analyses (click ‘Portfolio’ at the top of this page to check it out) and our blogging – is all accomplished by volunteers, and our efforts are funded exclusively by small donations from folks like you.
12:39 PM EST: The number of uniformed and plainclothes General Assembly Police officers here in the rotunda has just increased from its low of 1 (all morning) to 9 just now. Maybe they know something we don’t.
12:36 PM EST: ICYMI: No actual legislatin’ has yet occurred in this super-emergency session of the legislature. Skulls are still being dug behind closed doors.
12:10 PM EST: This just in: the Senate will be gaveling in at 2:30 PM. Meanwhile, the House is in recess until 1:00 PM. Reason: the Appropriations Committee is still appropriating somewhere downstairs. And heaven forfend the public should be permitted to observe that sausage-making.
Drafting 28 bills overnight can’t be easy.
11:56 AM EST: A sergeant-at-arms explains to the small crowd of bloggers and grandparents waiting to be allowed back into the gallery that the Appropriations Committee is still meeting downstairs. He adds, oddly, that all his manpower is currently tied up in that meeting (must be exciting!), so there’s no one left to oversee the gallery at this time. We’ll be let back in when it happens, and not before.
We’ll keep you posted. The NCGA trains never run on time when the GOP is scheming. A coup d’état isn’t near as easy to organize as they make it look.
— insightus (@InsightusOrg) December 14, 2016
11:31 AM EST: We’re awaiting the end of recess, expected for noon. I’m told that Rev. Barber was not able to make today’s protest here; he’s under the weather with a difficult-to-shake cold. Our prayers are with him.
Governor-elect Roy Cooper gave a stem-winder of a press conference earlier this morning in the AG’s office. “If they pass unconstitutional laws I’ll see them in court. And they don’t have a very good record there!” Cooper is expected to address the small protest crowd here in the Assembly building later today.
And small it is. There are perhaps 75 raucous protestors here in the building, their chants of “Forward together! Not one step back!” echoing through the marble corridors. None outside on Jones Street. No satellite trucks, and precious few reporters. Nothing to see here, folks. This is how repressive government crackdowns happen here in the 21st Century: largely unnoticed.
10:47 AM EST: Speaker Moore announces that the appropriations and rules committees are not yet done with their dirty work. House is in recess until noon EST. We’ll be back then!
10:40 AM EST: Someone’s wifi hotspot has just changed its name to “NCGA SESSION OF SHAME!”
10:35 AM EST: Speaker Moore (R) gavels the session to order. The House pastor manages to offer a prayer for wisdom, love, and yadda yadda yadda “as we move forward for the betterment of our state.”
10:25 AM EST: Jolly white fat-cats beginning to take their seats on the floor of the House. It looks like a Santa convention in suits down there, but without the beards.
10:25 AM EST: The announcement is made that the house will shortly be called into session, accompanied by the traditional (and very odd) fire alarm tone that signals visitors must leave the floor. Very few Representatives on hand yet, however.
10:09 AM EST: We’re told the Senate met for roughly 30 seconds earlier this morning, gavelling in just long enough to declare a session for tomorrow, after the House today completes its own dirty work. At 10:30 this morning Rev. Barber and the NC-NAACP will be holding a press conference in the building, following which they’ll join the rest of us here packing the gallery.
Elderly House staffers with slow southern drawls are pestering folks here in the gallery to remove their hats, because decorum must be maintained while democracy is being quietly but violently overthrown. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would be proud.
9:53 AM EST: Awaiting an anticipated 10:30 start to the session. No crowds yet outside the General Assembly building, but people are beginning to gather. Fittingly, the flags out front of the Assembly building are flying at half-staff.
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