ELLIOT: A family history of power addiction

“Who taught you how to do this stuff?” asks the father in a 1987 anti-drug public service TV spot. The son’s overly dramatic answer in the PSA remains a part of popular culture even two decades later: “I learned it by watching you!”That’s how it felt in Raleigh this week, when Republicans fast-tracked bill after bill through the General Assembly, laws that strip power from incoming governor Roy Cooper. It’s something Democrat-controlled legislatures have done repeatedly since the Republican Party began to win meaningful elections in the 1970s.It’s rich that Democrats are wailing so loudly about the changes Republicans are making in Raleigh. Two points are relevant here.First is the fact that, as the ’80s PSA famously concluded, “Parents who use drugs have kids who use drugs.” Stripping bills were a Democratic creation in North Carolina; it was completely legal when Democrats took power from Republicans that way, and of course it’s legal now.Ask Republican governors Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin about stripping bills. Or ask Jim Gardner, the lieutenant governor whose position was unceremoniously emasculated following his victory in 1988.Republicans haven’t done anything as drastic as they could. Some believe they could legally move every executive agency from under Cooper’s control to another Council of State member.The legislature cannot perform executive functions, but the constitution does not give the governor many explicit duties. Because of the dispersal of executive power among the Council of State officers, the legislature has broad authority to shape the executive branch. While the constitution unequivocally vests executive power in the governor, it also clearly states that “The General Assembly shall prescribe the functions, powers, and duties of the administrative departments and agencies of the State.”The second point is that when Democrats say that Republicans are thwarting the will of the electorate, they at least make a logical argument. But as usual, they have massively overplayed their hand.”This kind of overruling of voters is unprecedented,” gasped one horrified liberal. Hardly. Roy Cooper, the plurality winner of the gubernatorial election, lost the popular vote by more than 92,000. In other words, more North Carolinians wanted someone other than Cooper to be governor than wanted him to serve. (Libertarian Lon Cecil garnered 103,000 votes.)A majority isn’t necessary to win, so Cooper is governor-elect by winning the plurality by two-tenths of one percent, or 49.02 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, the Republican super-majorities in the General Assembly were easily maintained. And going back to Thom Tillis’ win over Kay Hagan for U.S. Senate in 2014, voters have preferred the GOP to Democrats in most contested statewide races other than Cooper’s lately. So spare me the “will of the voters” nonsense. If all actions — not just stripping bills — were okay when Democrats in gerrymandered districts did it, then it’s legal now too.From a public perception standpoint, Republicans in the General Assembly were looking fairly petty this week. But luckily for them, leftist protesters decided to recapture the moral low ground by countering the GOP power-play shenanigans with protest shenanigans, shutting down the legislative process for brief periods of time.None of that means that it is good for the legislature to rearrange state government in a ram-it-through, three-day session. But almost all these ideas had all been floated in the past few years. While the (extra) extra session maneuver was unnecessary (and frankly, ineffective) gamesmanship on the part of the GOP, most of the changes had been discussed and held in abeyance while the legislature gave Republican Gov. Pat McCrory the benefit of the doubt. That dynamic no longer applies, so the General Assembly acted.We should all hope that a day will come when less partisanship and more thoughtful deliberations come back to Raleigh. But the actions of the General Assembly this week, combined with the disingenuous overreactions to them, prove we have a long way to go.Drew Elliot is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.