The quiet Republican power grab

The quiet Republican power grab

- in Fitzsimon File

Most of the news from the General Assembly this week has been about the Senate’s draconian budget that will fire thousands of teachers, the disturbing House vote to repeal the Racial Justice Act, and the push by Republican lawmakers to allow the dangerous practice of fracking in the state.

That ought to be enough damage for one week, but there’s a lot more going on, including an unprecedented behind the scenes move by Republicans to subvert the constitution to give the incoming governor more power than the current one.

Republican legislative leaders are apparently confident that Republican Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, will defeat Democratic Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton in November. Or at least they are hedging their bets.

That’s the only possible explanation for their decision not to allow Governor Perdue to make her appointments to the State Board of Education as the Constitution provides.

The terms for three members of the board, including Chair Bill Harrison, have expired. Perdue submitted her appointments for the seats to state lawmakers during the 2011 session, normally a routine procedure.

But they were ignored. The current members will instead stay in their seats until the next governor is elected.

Three more terms expire next year, giving the next governor six appointments not long after he takes office. That’s close to a majority of one of the most important policymaking boards in the state, one now wrestling with fundamental questions about the future of public education from virtual for profit schools to vouchers to less accountability for the increasing number of charters.

Refusing to approve appointments by the chief executive –that’s the way things normally work in Washington not Raleigh, at least until this session. Republicans seemed determined to bring the worst of Congress to the General Assembly.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger told Sarah Ovaska of NC Policy Watch that the Senate was not acting on Perdue’s appointments to the State Board of Education and other important boards and commissions because the governor is a “lame-duck” and he thinks the new governor should make the appointments.

But Perdue wasn’t a lame duck in 2011 when she sent her appointments to the Senate. And even if she was, the voters elected her to a four-year term with all the constitutional powers that her office holds, not a two year term to then surrender her appointments to a power hungry General Assembly leadership.

Last year Republicans were considering a constitutional amendment to change the way the State Board of Education was appointed. They clearly want control of that board to continue their drive to dismantle public education.

But a constitutional amendment takes time and requires voter approval. It’s easier to subvert the constitution by refusing to appoint Perdue’s choices to the board and hope that McCrory wins in November.

Lawmakers have also ignored Perdue’s appointment to the state utilities commission and it’s a safe bet that more seats on important commissions will remain unfilled until the next governor is elected.

And the power grabbing is not just confined to appointments to powerful boards. Republican legislative leader are moving to dramatically increase the number of state government jobs that are political appointees and serve at the pleasure of the governor, exempt from state personnel protections.

The number of exempt positions has been cut in recent years partially in response to complaints by Republicans that too many state workers were political appointees of Democratic governors.

Now that Republicans sense they might control the governor’s office, they want to make sure they can control every corner of state government, even places currently not beholden to political leaders.

It’s raw partisan politics by Republicans, who aren’t letting what’s best for the state or even the Constitution stand in the way. What’s wrong in Washington is quietly becoming what’s wrong in Raleigh.

We deserve better.