The biggest power grab since Reconstruction

Published April 27, 2023

By Tom Campbell

What can you do when already-powerful politicians grab more and more power? The obvious answer is that you elect a new bunch of politicians. But how can that happen when those same power-hungry politicians have gerrymandered election districts, so as to ensure they remain in control?
That’s where North Carolina is right now. You won’t hear it on the news, read it in your papers or even see it in social media, but our state is witnessing the biggest power grab seen since Democrats threw out the carpetbaggers and Republicans in the early 1900s.
Our legislature has been increasing their power since taking control in 2012, but they have done so in a process likened to getting a camel under the tent. They recognize that major moves, like trying to completely cover the camel in one move, will cause the animal to balk and rebel. So, they start by getting the camel’s head under, then the neck, next the front legs and so on, until voila, you’ve got a camel under the tent. But this year they changed gears and are moving at warp speed.
The deck is already stacked in favor of our Assembly. Our founders, leery of having another powerful autocrat like the British monarch, deliberately gave the legislative branch more authority than either the executive or judicial branches. While we agree with the principle, the founders didn’t want them to have sole authority. Five former governors, Democrats and Republicans, agree and have published a statement protesting what lawmakers and warning us of the power grab.
Legislators already control our university system, the only power that appoints the Board of Governors. They do allow their minions to name the system president. This year they want to usurp the power do both in our community colleges. In a bill under consideration, they will change practically every element relating to community college governance, including the authority to name the State Community College board, the majority of members to local college boards and, in their boldest reach yet, even the power to name the state President of Community Colleges. We called it a rape.
With k-12 public education, there’s a move to remove the power of the governor to name the State Board of Education. Instead the new board will be named by…..wait for it, the General Assembly.
It is obvious that lawmakers don’t like and want to weaken k-12 district schools to a point where they will be unsustainable. In the 90s Republicans tried to institute a voucher system whereby each parent was given a certain amount to choose the school their child attends. But they recognized they couldn’t accomplish such a massive change at one time. When they took control of the legislature they created “Opportunity Scholarships,” a voucher program for low-income families, giving them a certain sum toward tuition in private schools. The program now serves more than 25,000 students and the voucher amount has increased steadily. We weren’t surprised more of the camel is now under the tent.
Legislation being considered this year would remove all income caps, so that a family earning $250,000 per year could receive $3,246 per child to go to an in-state school. Families making $55,000 or less would get $7,213 per child per year - still less than the $12,345 per student we currently spend. But remove enough children from district schools and what happens?
Currently the governor appoints members of many boards and commissions, like the Utilities Commission, Board of Transportation and Coastal Resources Commission, but a bill getting strong backing from legislative leadership would change the way members are appointed to these and six other boards. Lawmakers would appoint all or most of them. Legislators say these boards aren’t representative of the state because Governor Cooper appoints only Democrats and they need to have more diversity.
Lawmakers might need reminding that the governor is elected by all the voters, while each of them is only elected by a small number of voters. And their “diversity” record is as politically bad as the governor’s.
I guess we shouldn’t be worried because they also are intent on cutting all taxes and starving government.
Here’s my spin: What’s going on is that we now have a group of powerful autocrats that make King George look muted.
It’s been more than 30 years (a generation) since we had any major restructuring of state government and it’s time we brought our government into the 21st century, with more appropriate organization and authorities. But these changes don’t need to be shoot-from-the-hip partisan political changes, else we will end up with larger problems. We need serious study and deliberation to ensure a diversity of people and philosophies are considered, and we must take the time to do it right.
Let’s develop a government that distributes power and authority more evenly and prevents future power grabs.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. His weekly half-hour TV program, NC SPIN aired for 22 ½ years. Contact him at