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Patrick Gannon: Beginning to look a lot like session

RALEIGH – It’s beginning to feel a lot like – um, Jones Street – on Jones Street.

It’s still about two months before the mid-January start of the 2015-16 legislative session, but you wouldn’t know it with events of the past couple of weeks around the legislative complex.

In recent days, many legislators have been spotted walking the halls of the Legislative Building. Staffers appear to be hard at work preparing for next year. More and more committee meetings are being scheduled. Lobbyists and reporters are in the building more often.

The race to see who will replace U.S. Sen.-elect Thom Tillis as House speaker is heating up. It is expected to be decided with a vote of House Republicans Saturday in Asheboro.

Tensions are rising between Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and General Assembly leaders of his own party, foreshadowing what could be an eventful and contentious two years in state government that will culminate with the elections of 2016.

Early last week, news spread of $125,000 worth of renovations being done in the House chamber, with Democratic House members – and even some Republicans – voicing objections because they weren’t consulted. The work includes removing a red curtain from behind the speaker’s dais and replacing it with wood paneling, as well as walling off sets of doors leading into the chamber.

Then, late last week, McCrory, joining forces with former Govs. Jim Martin and Jim Hunt, sued Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger in Wake County Superior Court over whether General Assembly appointments to certain commissions – including the Coal Ash Commission – constitute an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers clause in the N.C. Constitution because they encroach on the executive branch’s authority to administer laws.

McCrory said in recent interviews that it’s his duty to “protect the executive branch, not only for me, but for my successors.”

The lawsuit is a clear indication that McCrory – who is expected to run for re-election in 2016 – will try to wield his power for the next two years against a Legislature that largely controlled the capital for the past two.

Tillis and Berger responded by calling the governor’s arguments flawed and said the governor could have vetoed the bills creating the commissions.

“Unfortunately, the governor’s costly and time-consuming lawsuit to ensure he picks the majority of regulatory board members ignores history and detracts from their important work,” Tillis and Berger said in a statement.

Also last week, the Rev. William Barber II, main architect of the Moral Monday protests at the Legislative Building the past two sessions, said the movement would continue next year in Raleigh. “We will fight until hell freezes over and then we will fight on the ice,” Barber said.

It seems like just yesterday that lawmakers drew the curtain on 2014’s short session in late August. But it’s now obvious that a new, two-year burst of wrangling and sausage-making is just around the corner.

Gannon writes columns for Capitol Press Association.

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