Legislative News January 2017 –
By Nelda Holder –
It’s January. It’s a time for fresh starts. And let’s hope that will mean something to our elected officials both in the NC Statehouse and the U.S. Congress.
The newly elected NC General Assembly (which, by the way, will face upheaval this very year if a court-ordered redistricting and new election is not stopped by legal maneuvering) convenes January 11. Congress has just started its new session.
But many of the state’s citizens remain well aware of the troubled (and troubling) month of December in the NCGA. A special session called by then-governor Pat McCrory for the purpose of approving funds for disaster relief in the state’s flooding and wildfire emergency areas brought the legislators back to Raleigh on December 13.
The relief bill passed unanimously, but it was immediately followed by an unanticipated fourth special session of the year called by House and Senate leadership, used to pass an extraordinarily far-reaching shuffle of the status quo. The incoming governor was stripped of full appointment power for his cabinet, such appointments now requiring approval by the NC Senate. Some 1,000 political appointments that had been created by legislation early in Gov. McCrory’s term were legislatively wiped away, but the appointees holding those jobs were deftly shunted into the state personnel system with its job protections.
And while the government, the public, and the incoming governor were trying to absorb those and other changes, a fifth special session (each of these sessions costs taxpayers a minimum of $42,000 per day) was called for December 21. This session, agreed to by incoming governor Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore, and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, sought the repeal of the highly charged “HB2” legislation under an agreement brokered with the Charlotte City Council.
HB2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act that was passed in a surprise special session in March 2016, proved to be a multi-headed hydra involving the so-called “bathroom” clause and other elements affecting discrimination laws and general municipal powers in the state. Its economic and social effects had the state in an uproar. But the December attempt at repeal, supposedly agreed upon by the incoming governor and legislative leaders Berger and Moore, fell apart in committee, and the legislators finally went home for good.
(For the record, the first of 2016’s five special sessions was an extra session on redistricting held in February in order to comply with a court order.)
But as I say: It’s January now. The new year is celebrated with resolve to do better and be better, right? So let’s look at an example of how differently another state has handled the transition of gubernatorial power—and its political intent in general.
An instructive tale from far away
On November 18, 2016, in the small New England state of Vermont (population 624,594 or thereabouts), following a contentious national election, a remarkable thing happened.
Outgoing Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, and Governor-elect Phil Scott, a Republican, signed a “Joint Statement in Support of Diversity, Equality, & Inclusiveness.” Posted on the then-governor’s website, the three-paragraph statement was also signed by a host of Vermont education leaders, as well as the president of the Vermont Business Roundtable.
Meanwhile, in the state of North Carolina, the election and post-election period was providing a season of remarkable contentiousness. Allegations of voter fraud at the state level were issued without proof (and the challenges lodged were predominantly proven incorrect); the incumbent governor delayed concession, thus affecting the orderly transition of power; the General Assembly fumbled through a fourth and then fifth special session with a degree of rancor and power-grabbing that left the entire state—not to mention traditional protocols of power—reeling.
So let’s look more closely at that change of leadership in our little sister state. There the power of the governorship was passing from a Democrat to a Republican. Yet both men joined with a bevy of state leaders to declare the following—well worth the contemplation of this state, its leaders, and its citizens.
“Vermont has fought for centuries for freedom and unity, equity and openness. Vermont remains a beacon of hope and opportunity, community and shared humanity. Vermont was the first to commit to the abolition of slavery in our state constitution and a leader in the fight for marriage equality. We will continue to support all Vermonters and welcome people of all backgrounds to the Green Mountain state.
“We, the undersigned, condemn any acts of unlawful discrimination, violence, and intimidation that target differences in national origin, race, sex, gender, religion, disability, or political viewpoint across our nation. Such acts run counter to the rights and freedoms upon which our country was founded and to the core values of the state of Vermont.
“Vermont is committed to fostering welcoming communities and an equitable, diverse, and inclusive society.”
Maybe, in a state as small in population as Vermont, people truly have to depend on each other in times of trouble, and maybe that just naturally transfers itself to cooperation on many basic levels. But also, perhaps, given this positive, common vision of the state’s identity and role in society, it’s time for the larger state of North Carolina to examine the rancor that over the past year has cost NC taxpayers millions and millions of dollars in lawsuits and left chaos in the aisles of our Statehouse. Would it be so hard to find a positive vision we could all share? Or will we continue to worship obstruction and power for the sake of power?
Perhaps it is time to expect and demand higher standards from our elected “leaders.” Perhaps it is time for them to do their jobs in the service of all.
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts. Read Holder’s blog, www.politicallypurplenc.com