Editor’s Note: The Rev. William J. Barber II, a Protestant minister, is president of the North Carolina NAACP, president of Repairers of the Breach, a progressive ecumenical organization, and founder of Moral Mondays, a grass-roots movement for racial and economic justice. He is the author of “The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Rev. William Barber: Before Gov. Patrick McCrory leaves office Republicans are trying to strip power from Governor-elect Roy Cooper
Seeing that they were failing at the ballot box, ultraconservatives passed legislation to strip the executive and courts of key powers, William Barber writes
On Wednesday, December 14, an all-white caucus of the North Carolina General Assembly called the legislature into a second special session, giving their fellow legislators only two hours’ notice.
Gov. Patrick McCrory had called the first special session, a one-day affair on Tuesday, with the purpose of allocating disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. But in the surprise second session, the ultraconservative contingent that controls North Carolina’s Republican supermajority unleashed an instant barrage of bills to nullify the results of Democrat Roy Cooper’s recent defeat of McCrory and the voters’ elevation of a distinguished African American jurist, Mike Morgan, to the state’s Supreme Court.
The supermajority’s surprise attacks slash the prerogatives of the incoming governor and reconfigure the state’s court system to fend off challenges to legislators’ power.
From executive appointment powers to state and county boards of election to hundreds of civil service posts, this legislation was designed to strip the executive branch of its power before Governor-elect Cooper takes office.
Other legislation seeks to remove oversight of the General Assembly’s actions from the North Carolina Supreme Court’s purview; Justice Morgan’s election gives the Court a Democratic majority. They want to subvert the will of the voters, both in the recent election and in elections to come.
This brazen power grab only confirms their fear of North Carolina’s interracial nonpartisan Forward Together Moral Movement, better known as “Moral Monday.” According to a December 5 analysis by Public Policy Polling, “The seeds of McCrory’s defeat really were planted by the Moral Monday movement,” which lowered the popular Republican governor’s polls from 65 to 35 and gave McCrory “39 months in a row of an underwater approval rating.” Moral Monday recently helped oust McCrory and elect Justice Morgan by a total of 345,000 votes.
Though their current attempt to block the will of the people is morally wrong, the extremist supermajority’s fear of the voters is well grounded. This past July, the US Court of Appeals for the 4th District ruled in North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory that the extremists in the General Assembly had “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision,” and overturned the state’s 2013 voter suppression bill.
Another coalition victory in federal court overturned the legislature’s “racial gerrymander” in 28 districts, requiring new district lines and a special election in 2017; the US Supreme Court is reviewing that case now.
Our Moral Mondays movement is here because the extremists who control the state’s GOP have consistently subverted our democratic process. We are here because, after four long years of naming and resisting extremism in North Carolina, the people of this state have chosen a new direction for our future.
Extremist Republicans who cut taxes for the wealthy, denied health care to poor people, attacked public education, suppressed votes and targeted immigrants and minorities with mean-spirited legislation are making their last stand against the ballot box and the courts. The 2017 special election for 28 House and Senate seats, if the US Supreme Court allows it to go forward, may go quite badly for them indeed.
Though his opponent, Roy Cooper, had more than a five-thousand vote lead, McCrory refused to concede. He then spent nearly a month making demonstrably false claims about “voter fraud” aimed largely at African Americans. His campaign manager said, “With each passing day, we discover more and more cases of voting fraud and other irregularities.”
Questioned about these claims, McCrory’s spokesman Ricky Diaz replied, “The real question people should be asking is, why is Roy Cooper fighting to count the votes of dead people and felons.” McCrory’s campaign was unable to corroborate any such thing. The GOP-controlled state Board of Elections recently reported that from 2000 to 2012, forty million ballots had been cast and there were only two cases of fraud, neither of which resulted in conviction. Accounts of alien abductions outnumber proven instances of electoral fraud in North Carolina.
Race underlies many of these schemes. Under Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore’s leadership, we have not only witnessed the attempt to nullify Mike Morgan’s election to the Supreme Court, but watch their legislature pass what we and the federal courts agreed was an overtly racist voter suppression bill. And although HB2 made North Carolina nationally infamous for Gov. McCrory’s attacks on LGBTQ rights, that law also stripped all victims of discrimination of any kind the right to sue in state courts; minorities and women suffer the most from workplace discrimination.
Passed by legislators who espouse their belief in local control, HB2 also barred counties and cities from passing local ordinances to raise the minimum wage or adopt any statute related to workplace safety for children, minority set-aside, payment of wages or working conditions.
This special session was planned in illegal, secret meetings that excluded every African-American member of both the House and Senate. The North Carolina NAACP and the Moral Movement see what is happening, and we have already begun to take nonviolent direct action to resist this political coup d’etat, even as we prepare to fight it in the courts. I and more than 50 others were arrested in protests this week.
When elected officials consistently seek to subvert democracy, a free people must hold them accountable. Our state Constitution expressly forbids the secret cabal that planned this special session; it contains a Reconstruction-era amendment banning “secret societies” from the legislature. Intended to bar the Ku Klux Klan from involvement in state government, it applies in this instance also. The Forward Together Moral Movement is in Raleigh to petition our elected representatives and insist that they respect the Constitution they swore to uphold. We have come too far to turn back now.
The people of this state have voted and the federal courts have spoken. We are moving forward together, not one step back.