HILL: North Carolinian aversion to centralized power 

Gov. Roy Cooper briefs media at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via N.C. Dept. of Public Safety

The North Carolina gubernatorial office has always been considered a constitutionally weak executive branch ― and Democrats dating back to the early days of the Republic have made darn sure it stayed that way. 

For good reason. Most of the hostility by North Carolinians towards governors came from the memory of over-bearing, arrogant colonial governors appointed by the King of England to rule over the early colonists in the Carolinas. However, as my father who was from Asheville was fond of pointing out, a lot of said hostility came from the temperamental Scotch-Irish who moved to North Carolina and brought with them their religious fervor, independent streak and rebellious nature from Scotland and Ireland. 

He described North Carolinians as people who would, if a person asked them for help, willingly give them the shirt and coat off their back plus food and shelter to boot. However, if someone told a North Carolinian to give them their food, clothing or shelter, they would tell them to go to hell and fight them every inch of the way until they got there. 

Native-born or naturalized North Carolinians don’t cotton too well to anyone telling them to do anything. Make a harsh demand of one of them this week and see how they respond. 

The thought of giving too much authority and power to a single person in the colonial governor’s mansion reeked too much of monarchial rule.  North Carolinians of all stripes have rejected it ever since. 

It wasn’t until 1996 that a governor could veto any bill passed by the General Assembly. North Carolina was the last state in the Union to grant such executive power over acts passed by the legislature ― 207 years after the United States of America began operation. 

How’s that as testament to the North Carolinian aversion to concentrated power in one person? 

Rule #1 in governing North Carolinians: Don’t side with or act like you love the trappings of “royalty.” Colonists tried to burn down buildings where colonial governors tried to hide and were sorely disappointed when they discovered the governor had escaped. 

Gov. Roy Cooper is facing lame-duck status for the rest of his term after Republicans secured a veto-proof supermajority in both the House and Senate when Mecklenburg Rep. Tricia Cotham converted to the Republican Party.  Some say after Republicans redraw legislative maps this summer, Democratic governors in North Carolina will be in “dead duck hospice care” in terms of advancing their gubernatorial agenda for the next decade at least. 

There are fears in the press that the NCGA will take advantage of such weakened status and strip the governor of virtually every power including appointments to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and Trustees. 

The governor shouldn’t take it too personally. It is just a fact of life in North Carolina that the NCGA, especially the constitutionally-powerful Senate, has always sought to keep power away from the executive branch and retain firm legislative supremacy in the state. Jim Gardner of Rocky Mount became the first Republican Lt. Gov. of North Carolina since Reconstruction in 1988.  The Democrat-controlled Senate proceeded to take away every power previous Democratic lieutenant governors held which included active, not ceremonial, roles in the NC Senate. 

Mr. Gardner said if the Senate had stripped him of the state trooper assigned to drive him around the state in an official state-owned vehicle, he would have had nothing to do as lieutenant governor for four years. 

North Carolina is perhaps the last best example of a true “citizen-legislature”-governed state in the nation. We Tar Heels may be a valley of humility between two mountains of conceit ― but we really don’t want one person, no matter how great the elected official may be, making big decisions for the rest of us.  

It just isn’t in our nature.