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North Carolina Legislature Could Bring About Dramatic Change

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers are trying to pass last-minute bills that would weaken the power of the incoming governor. He's a Democrat. All year long, North Carolina has epitomized many of the nation's political divides, and it was one of the most contested states in the election. Joining us now from Raleigh is Jeff Tiberii. He's a political reporter with member station WUNC. And, Jeff, precisely what are these Republican lawmakers proposing?

JEFF TIBERRII, BYLINE: Well, initially, they came back to the General Assembly to deal with disaster recovery and dealing with victims of hurricane flooding and wildfires in the western portion of the state. That passed unanimously. Then they called another unscheduled special session, and they filed several bills, the most contentious of which would strip the governor-elect, a Democrat, of power. Now, some of the powers that could be eliminated - State Election Board, removal of some of his appointments to the state university system. It also would reduce the number of political hires that the governor generally, going back the last few decades, has been able to make.

Now, under the current governor, there are 1,500, you know, staff or just positions within the administration. And one of the proposals set forth would reduce that number from 1,500 to 300. And on top of that, the governor would lose the power to simply hire cabinet secretaries on his or her own and would now need confirmation from the state Senate.

CORNISH: So what are these legislators saying about the timing? Why now - and the purpose?

TIBERII: Well, the current governor, Republican Pat McCrory, conceded just last week in what was a very tight governor's race. There were allegations of voter fraud across the state, but really no evidence to substantiate any of those claims. Republicans held on to super majorities in both chambers of the state legislature here. Democrats are calling this a last-minute power grab. That is, you know - it's thinly veiled. What it is doing is an effort to weaken the executive branch before Governor-elect Roy Cooper takes power on January 1.

As you noted at the beginning, North Carolina is truly a divided place right now. It's a contentious political atmosphere. Earlier this year, in a different special session, the legislature passed House Bill 2, which I think is probably now fairly called an infamous bathroom bill. And that, of course, limits protections for members of the LGBT community.

Federal courts this year have also struck down boundaries - political boundaries - both state legislative districts and also congressional maps because they describe them - they ruled that they were a legal racial gerrymander. So at the heart of this, this is really about who's going to control the state - Republicans or Democrats and where some of these powers lie, whether it's the legislative branch or the executive branch.

CORNISH: I know this story is still moving, so what happens next?

TIBERII: Right. It's pretty fluid. Things are moving quickly - fairly chaotic down here, whether that's intended or not by some of the leading lawmakers. The halls were filled with demonstrators throughout the morning. You know, recently this afternoon, the Senate gallery was cleared because protesters were disrupting the lawmaking session. They were given repeated warnings by the lieutenant governor. And they just continued to make noise and chants, and the Senate gallery was cleared.

So we're expecting more votes into Thursday night, potentially even early Friday morning. They could come back Friday, as well, and we'll see what happens. Republicans say that this is within their constitutional power, but it is messy. And Cooper, the incoming Democrat, is the attorney general. And he said this morning that if Republicans do anything he deems unconstitutional, that he'll see them in court.

CORNISH: That's Jeff Tiberii in Raleigh, N.C., with member station WUNC. Thanks so much.

TIBERII: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.