That sound you hear from Raleigh these days is coming from leading North Carolina Republicans, astonished that their iron grip on state government is in jeopardy, thrashing around desperately as they consider extraordinary mechanisms to maintain it by thwarting the will of the voters and ironically complaining about decisions by the federal courts.
The most stunning news for the state GOP elite on election night was that voters rejected Governor Pat McCrory in what turned out to be an almost Republican wave election, with Donald Trump and Senator Richard Burr both winning, the GOP maintaining its super majority in the state House and Senate and Republicans capturing a majority of seats on the Council of State for the first time.
McCrory’s defeat by Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper in this banner Republican year prompted offensive claims from his campaign that widespread voter fraud was to blame. But the vast majority of accusations of illegal voting were rejected by GOP-led local elections boards and many innocent people were recklessly and falsely accused of committing felonies in the process.
A recount of 94,000 votes in Durham County ordered by the State Board of Elections is almost certain not to affect the outcome of the race as Cooper’s lead grew to more than 10,000 votes after provisional and absentee ballots were counted.
Lingering around the edges of the recounts and vote challenges was the disturbing possibility that McCrory might ask the Republican General Assembly to step in and decide the governor’s race, using a procedure Democrats adopted to handle the 2004 closely contested race for state school superintendent.
Legislative leaders haven’t exactly endorsed that startling plan, but they haven’t explicitly ruled it out either and former Republican Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr recently said that the General Assembly deciding the governor’s race was a real possibility and he seemed to support it.
Lawmakers may also be considering overturning the voters’ decision about control of the N.C. Supreme Court. Republican Justice Bob Edmunds lost his reelection bid to Democratic Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan in the only race on the ballot for the court that Republicans currently control by a 4-3 margin.
Now there’s talk in Raleigh that legislative leaders may expand the court by adding two justices and do it in a special session that will be held later this month for hurricane relief. That way McCrory could make the appointments and Republicans would maintain control of the court.
Much like their silence about the possibility of intervening in the governor’s race, legislative leaders haven’t publicly embraced the idea, but this week Senator Bob Rucho pointedly refused to rule out such a court packing scheme.
Rucho also made headlines for his reaction to a ruling by a three-judge federal panel that ordered the General Assembly to draw at least 28 new legislative districts by March 15 and hold a special election next year to fill the seats.
Last year the panel ruled that the districts were unconstitutional because of the way lawmakers relied on race as a factor when drawing them, but allowed the 2016 election to proceed because there wasn’t time to redraw the illegal districts.
Rucho and Rep. David Lewis issued a joint statement blasting the ruling and calling it a “politically-motivated decision, which would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots.”
It’s more than a little ridiculous for politicians who aggressively gerrymander maps to preserve their own power by predetermining the results of most legislative elections to talk about respecting the will of the people.
And calling it politically motivated doesn’t make sense either, since one of the members of the three-judge panel, Thomas Schroeder, was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush and earlier this year upheld the state’s voter suppression law that was later thrown out by a federal appeals court.
It’s also ironic since Rucho and his legislative colleagues refuse to rule out intervening in the governor’s race or packing the state supreme court to maintain their majority. Both outrageous ideas would actually undo the will of North Carolinians just weeks after they cast their ballots.
Before November’s election Republicans controlled all three of the branches of state government. As the result of the election they will control only one, if they allow the choices of the voters to stand.
That may be a hard pill for Republican leaders to accept, especially in a big Republican year, but that’s what happens in a democracy.
The voters give politicians their power and voters can take it away too—whether the politicians like it or not.