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Political notebook: Rowan legislators stick with Republican majority in government structure changes

By Josh Bergeron
josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

When legislators gathered in Raleigh this week for special sessions on hurricane relief and changes to the structure of government, Rowan County’s members of the General Assembly stuck with the Republican supermajority.

First, the legislature would pass a $200-million, hurricane-relief package to help with Hurricane Matthew recovery. That package included money for housing, community infrastructure, natural resources, economic development and planning. The Hurricane Matthew recovery passed unanimously.

Shortly after the Hurricane Matthew relief passed, legislators would start a separate special session. The intent was to consider anything legislators wanted to introduce, but the focal point quickly became changing the structure of government before Governor-elect Roy Cooper took office.

In one of the notable changes, legislators altered the makeup of the state and county boards of elections so that an equal balance of both parties exists. Previously, the party of the governor had an advantage. Under Gov. Pat McCrory, for example, county boards of elections have two Republicans and one Democrat. Until the new law passed, Democrats expected to have a 2-1 advantage at the county level under Cooper. Called Senate Bill 4, the measure received “aye” votes from all Republicans representing Rowan — Sens. Andrew Brock and Tom McInnis and reps. Carl Ford and Harry Warren.

Another bill that received votes from all of Rowan’s legislators requires Cooper’s cabinet appointments to be appointed by the State Senate. It also cuts the number of state employees Cooper can hire and fire to 425 from 1,500.

Warren talks need for special session bills, protesters

The most opportune time to make major changes to North Carolina’s government structure was before Cooper took office in January, Warren said Friday afternoon.

When asked about the various bills passed by the General Assembly on Friday, Warren said some members with “institutional knowledge” of the issues will not return next legislative session.

“Provisions of the bills were each important for different reasons, but overall they will improve the efficiency and execution of governmental and electoral processes in the areas they address,” Warren said.

Ford said he couldn’t talk Friday afternoon because the State House was still in session. Brock did not respond to a message seeking a comment on the special session.

When asked what he thought about a crowd of protesters, which often made it hard for legislators to hear one another during debates, Warren said they were allowed in the House chambers and removed after being disruptive.

“Once they began a demonstration of civil disobedience that disrupted and prevented the House from conducting the business of the state, ejecting them from the gallery was the appropriate action,” he said.

Although Ford couldn’t be reached Friday afternoon, he spoke on the floor of the State House and said a family member had been threatened by a client as a result of action taken by the General Assembly.

Back and forth between Democrats, Republicans

Protesters that loudly chanted and sang during this week’s special session by the General Assembly were called a “small mob” by the state’s Republican Party.

The “small mob” violated the “rights of over nine million citizens,” NC GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said in a prepared statement.

“We support the freedom and right of every citizen to speak for or against legislation, and well as the constitutional right to petition government for a redress of grievances,” Hayes said Friday. “However, when a few hundred people decide to shut down the work of the General Assembly simply because they are against the outcome, we have gone from free speech to mob rule.”

For its part, the North Carolina Democratic Party criticized the entire second special session — about changing the structure of government — as a lame-duck power grab.

“For Republicans to call a lame duck special session for political power grabs without disclosing any details is an unprecedented move to undermine the will of the people,” said party spokesman Jamal Little. “We’ve unanimously passed Hurricane Matthew relief funding, and now it’s time for the General Assembly to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and go home.”

Later, Democrats would call an appointment that occurred during the session a “quid pro quo” that needed to be investigated.

An appointment to the state’s industrial commission went to Yolanda Stith, the wife of Gov. McCrory’s Chief of Staff Thomas Stith. Over the life of the appointment, Yolanda Stith will make more than $1 million, the NC Democratic Party estimated.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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