Monopoly men: GOP legislative leaders continue to expand their power in all directions

Published May 25, 2023

By Rob Schofield

Is there any aspect of life in modern North Carolina for which the Republican majority of the General Assembly doesn’t see itself as the font of all wisdom and rightful final arbiter?

That’s not a facetious question.

GOP pols and their pals on the religious right and in the business and gun lobbies love to describe themselves as champions of ideas like “limited government,” “freedom,” “local control,” and “constitutional” values, but as their actions have repeatedly confirmed, that’s all a smokescreen for the true objective: accumulating and exercising raw power.

Any illusions in this realm should have been dispelled once and for all several years ago during a hastily convened kangaroo legislative session that resulted in the swift passage of the preposterous and infamous bill to dictate behavior in public restrooms — HB2.

And since that time, it’s not an overstatement to say that scarcely a day goes by without a new GOP proposal to accumulate and consolidate power in a handful of offices in the Legislative Building and to tell other people – other state and local officials, doctors, teachers, pregnant people, even entertainers – what to do and how to act.

In the world of policy, unless the debate concerns guns, pollution or spreading disease – three strikingly similar topics on which GOP leaders are loathe to place any limits on people harming other people – North Carolinians are liable to run afoul of the micromanaging big brothers on Jones Street.

The list includes legislation designed to:

Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.


One shudders to think what might be next.

But, of course, the power grabs go beyond merely controlling the day-to-day lives of individuals. Seizing power from other public officials – particularly the governor – is also a top priority.

The constitution in North Carolina – the last state to allow the veto – has always granted the governor’s office comparatively limited powers. But even Republican Pat McCrory found himself enmeshed in litigation with GOP legislators over efforts to limit his authority.

And in recent years, the bills to further extend legislative power at the governor’s expense just keep coming. Some were pushed through in the months between Roy Cooper’s election in 2016 and his 2017 inaugural, and since then, such efforts have never really stopped. A steady stream of bills has sought to limit gubernatorial appointment power to various boards. In 2018, proposed constitutional amendments would have seized power over judicial appointments and elections. Most recently, the Senate version of a new state budget would allow legislative leaders to appoint 10 special Superior Court judges – a task traditionally held by the governor.

Repeated attacks on the powers and budget of the attorney general reflect a similar pattern. As one wag recently noted, if Josh Stein manages to win the governorship in 2024, it won’t be surprising if a GOP-dominated legislature consigns his administration to a Raleigh coworking space.

And the list goes on.

There’s the never-ending crusade to micromanage and remake the UNC system by exerting complete control over the Board of Governors — a move that’s forced an end to funding for disfavored projects and birthed new ones, led to the installation of political cronies in important and highly paid positions, caused campuses to reopen prematurely during the COVID-19 pandemic, forced the wasteful move of system headquarters to Raleigh, and dictated curricula.

And, of course, who could forget the repeated efforts to dominate and micromanage local government on everything from the minimum wage to gun safety, immigration enforcement to LGBTQ rights, renewable energy to mass transit?

Now add to all this the intimidating power that lawmakers regularly wield through the simple tactic of placing disfavored agency budgets on what amount to starvation diets – see for example the eviscerated Department of Environmental Quality and threadbare State Board of Elections – and it’s no wonder that smart and experienced public servants find themselves repeatedly obliged to kiss the rings of GOP legislators – many of whom have never managed an enterprise larger than their own campaign for office.

That virtually every important legislative action is hatched in secret only adds to the anti-democratic and autocratic way in which power is exercised.

The bottom line: When Republican majorities took control of the General Assembly in 2011, their leaders promised a new era of openness and transparency in government. Unfortunately, a decade-plus later, the only thing these leaders have made crystal clear is that they enjoy accumulating and exercising great power and intend to keep pursuing both objectives for as long as they can.