By Simon Gonzalez
Responsible parents teach their children a couple of important lessons.
One is that the “everyone else” argument is invalid. The plea for permission based on “everyone else is going” or “everyone else is doing it” is swiftly met with something like, “If everyone else were jumping off a cliff, would you do that, too?”
The other is that “he started it” is not a valid reason to behave badly.
Apparently, those are lessons the Republicans in the state house never learned.
The legislature was called into special session last week, ostensibly to allocate $200 million in aid for Hurricane Matthew victims. As soon as that was done, another closed-door special session immediately followed. In that one, Republicans passed legislation to seriously curtail the powers of governor-elect Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
News reports state the bills take away the incoming governor’s ability to make appointments to the state board of education and the boards of trustees of University of North Carolina-system schools; allow senate approval of his cabinet appointees; and reduce the number of appointments he can make for government jobs from 1,500 to 425.
The Republicans also restructured the state judicial branch and revamped state and county elections boards.
The moves were characterized in language ranging from a power grab to a coup. That might be overstating things a tad, but with their man on the way out and the guy from the opposition party on the way in, the Republicans clearly wanted to strip power from the executive branch.
In defense of their actions, the Republicans reverted to the old childhood excuses. “He hit me first.” He, in this case, is former governor Jim Hunt, who did his own power grab after being elected in 1976, demanding the resignations of 169 state employees.
The Raleigh News & Observer reports state GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse, during a contentious exchange with NAACP attorney Alan McSurely, also cited “the Democrats stripping the lieutenant governor, a Republican, of all his power [in 1989]” and “stripping [former Republican Gov.]Jim Martin of his hiring authority [in 1984].”
In a calmer moment, Senate leader Phil Berger justified the actions thusly: “I think the better reason to know about those things is to put that in the context of what we’re doing, so that folks aren’t under the false impression that what’s happened here this week is totally out of the ordinary.”
In other words, they started it and everybody is doing it.
But just as we don’t accept those as valid excuses from our children, neither should we from our politicians. Of either party.
If it was wrong when the Dems did it, it’s just as bad when the Reps do it. The “they did it first” mentality further fuels the distrust and animosity between the two parties, making it increasingly unlikely they can work together to benefit the state. Rather than a bridge across the aisle, it creates a chasm. And since neither party seems to know how to function as an adult, it makes it likely for the Democrats to retaliate when the pendulum swings back.
Perhaps the Republicans are secure in their majorities and can’t foresee their opponents regaining control of either chamber. If so, they are incredibly shortsighted.
North Carolinians are a quirky, unpredictable lot. Neither party can count on long-term supremacy. Republicans fared well across the state. We voted for Donald Trump and Richard Burr. But we also (narrowly) rejected McCrory. Clearly, lots of folks split their ballots.
Regardless of long-term strategy or short-term pigheadedness, it’s just plain wrong. The reason for elections is to give the people a voice in the running of their government. When the people spoke in November, Cooper won.
Yes, it was close and contentious. But Cooper prevailed. Republicans should be content in their veto-proof majorities and rely on the system of checks and balances rather than changing the rules.