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A Legislative Coup in NC? Rev. William Barber on GOP Stripping Power from New Democratic Governor

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Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are being accused of waging a legislative coup by attempting to strip power from the state’s incoming governor, Democrat Roy Cooper. Cooper narrowly beat Republican Governor Pat McCrory by 10,000 votes last month. In an unprecedented move, Republicans filed dozens of new bills this week during a special session of the General Assembly called to consider relief for Hurricane Matthew victims. The Republican lawmakers are attempting to impose measures to slash the number of state employees appointed by the governor, require Senate approval for all of the governor’s Cabinet picks and strip the governor of the power to appoint University of North Carolina trustees. Another bill aims to weaken the governor’s control over the state Board of Election. Yet another Republican bill would strip some power away from the Democratic governor and give it to the lieutenant governor, who happens to be a Republican. None of the bills were being considered until after Republican Governor Pat McCrory conceded defeat. We speak to Rev. William Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and head of the North Carolina NAACP.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are being accused of waging a legislative coup by attempting to strip power from the state’s incoming governor, Democrat Roy Cooper. Cooper narrowly beat Republican Governor Pat McCrory by 10,000 votes last month. In an unprecedented move, Republicans filed dozens of new bills this week during a special session of the General Assembly that was called to consider relief for Hurricane Matthew victims. The Republican lawmakers are attempting to impose measures to slash the number of state employees appointed by the governor, require Senate approval for all of the governor’s Cabinet picks and strip the governor of the power to appoint University of North Carolina trustees. Another bill aims to weaken the governor’s control over the state Elections Board. Yet another Republican bill would strip some power away from the Democratic governor and give it to the lieutenant governor, who happens to be a Republican. None of the bills were being considered until after Republican Governor Pat McCrory conceded defeat. Governor-elect Roy Cooper criticized the actions of the Republican lawmakers.

GOV.-ELECT ROY COOPER: The Republican leadership in the General Assembly has put forth a number of proposed pieces of legislation over the last 12 to 24 hours. Most people might think that this is a partisan power grab. But it is really more ominous. It’s really about hurting public education, working families, state employees, healthcare and clean air and water.

AMY GOODMAN: At least 17 people were arrested at the state Capitol Thursday protesting the Republican efforts. The NAACP of North Carolina has decried the legislative actions, describing it as a form of Jim Crow governance.

Meanwhile, another effort by Republican lawmakers to pack the state Supreme Court, which just tilts Democratic, appears to have been defeated. Republicans were threatening to try to add two more justices to the court, after the Democratic African-American Judge Mike Morgan defeated a Republican incumbent in the November election, tilting the court 4-3 Democrat. The North Carolina Supreme Court has seven judges for the last 80 years.

Well, for more, we’re going to Raleigh, North Carolina, to be joined by Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and president of the North Carolina NAACP.

Reverend Barber, welcome back to Democracy Now! So it took the Republican governor, McCrory, about a month to concede defeat, right? He is the first—he’s the only Republican incumbent governor who was defeated in this sweep through the country this year. And then explain what happened.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, thank you so much, Amy, for having me on Democracy Now! And let me just say to all the listeners, particularly in North Carolina: All roads head to the General Assembly. We need you there today by 10:00 a.m.

You know, we had this election, and what you have here are a group of extremists, tea party extremists, who are very afraid of the changing South and the changing demographics in North Carolina. You’re exactly right: The governor refused to concede. And they’re scared because we’re the only state that held off the full weight of Trumpism in the South. We have a movement there, and that movement has been working for years, and particularly over the last three years with Moral Monday movements. We were able to change the consciousness of the state. And the governor lost the election.

Now, what this was after, Amy, they—the Republican-led state Board of Election put in place 158 less voting sites, early voting sites, than we had in 2014 and '12. They lost the most—the worst voter suppression bill that they pushed, in the courts. The court said it was "surgical racism." They lost on redistricting. The courts have now demanded that we have to redraw lines and have a new election next year with the Legislature. They lost the governor's race, the secretary of state’s race, the auditor’s race, the attorney general’s race. And the Supreme Court became more progressive with an African American winning 76 of the 100 counties, and winning by over 300,000 votes.

It’s a sign of things to come, when we organize in the South. And so, the governor and those extremists refused. They did everything they could. They even purged votes, Amy, during the election. They lost again, and we forced votes to be put back on the books. So they have seen that they have tried everything, but when there is a movement of the people, a moral movement of the people, we can, in fact, change the South. And if you do that, you change the nation. And so, now, with these losses, they are now engaging in this extreme power grab and policy grab.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Reverend Barber, you wrote recently in a column for ThinkProgress that you think that you’re seeing the birth pangs of a Third Reconstruction. What do you mean exactly by that?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, you know, the first Reconstruction in the 1800s, black and whites worked together after slavery, fundamentally changed the South. And then you had this massive reaction to turn back all of those policies, which actually came to the—its strongest point with the selection of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, who was a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote but won—was selected through the electoral process, with the promise that he would restore the white hierarchy, if you will, in the country by his appointments and by his changing the Supreme Court.

Then the second Reconstruction was the civil rights movement. You had all of the massive changes—the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the War on Poverty—in 1954 to ’68. But then you have a reaction called the Southern strategy, led by Kevin Phillips and Richard Nixon, law and order. Richard Nixon claimed he would bring—Kevin Phillips, excuse me, told him, "If you find out who hates who and who fears who, we can pit people against one another in the South, and we can rule the South for 50 years." And you know if you rule the South, if you can control the South, you control 171 electoral votes, by just controlling the former 13 Confederate states. You control 26 senators in the United States Senate, which means you only need 25 from the other 37 states. You control 31 percent of the United States House of Representatives, which means you only need 20 from the other 37 states. And you control 13 governors and 13 general assemblies, that control state boards of election. So, if you break through that, then you have fundamentally changed politics.

I believe all of the pushback we’re seeing—the voter suppression, the redistricting—is because the extremists see the possibility of a third Reconstruction. They know that if we register 30 percent of the African-American voter, unregistered voters, in the South, and if we add to that whites and progressive whites and Latinos, you will have changed the South. And if you ever change that map and you ever gave deep down organizing that gets people to stop voting against their own interests, grown-up conversations about race and economics, and people begin to see themselves as allies, blacks and whites, and no longer fear one another, then you have a third Reconstruction. I think we’re in the birth pangs of it. North Carolina is one of the places that points to it. Virginia is one of the places that points to it. The closing gaps that we’re seeing—when you look at Trump, he didn’t win the South by the gaps that Ronald Reagan did. And if we have deep down organizing in the South, we can have—we can push this third Reconstruction to full adulthood. I really believe that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Reverend Barber, you’ve also talked repeatedly about the difference between fusion politics and populism. Could you—could you elaborate on that, as well?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Yeah. Well, you know, populism could be a—once was a lynch mob in the South. And Trump has engaged in a certain kind of nativism and populism. But fusion politics grows out of—it was named during the first Reconstruction, when black former slaves and white farmers, poor people, became allies in the South and saw their common interests. And so, when you have fusion, when you hold economic—race and economics together—I’m concerned, for instance, about the way some progressives are talking about this election. They keep talking about just an economic fix, or we just need to talk to white working poor people. But if you do not factor in race and how, as Nell Painter said at Princeton, the—you would not have a Trump without an Obama, that President Obama’s election represented a kind of inversion of a hierarchy in this country. And so, what we have to wrestle with is what caused, for instance, many whites to vote for a candidate that actually says—and there are 8 million more white people that are poor than black, but they vote for a candidate that’s against living wages. What causes many whites to vote for a candidate who says, "I’m going to cut your healthcare," when 80 percent of the people who will lose their healthcare are persons that do not have a college degree, and 56 percent of them are white? What trumps common sense? That’s the grown-up race policy question.

Now, if you can bridge that in a fusion, and if you can get black people and white people and Latinos to begin to see their issues together, if you can get people, for instance, the LGBT community, to understand the same people against the LGBT community are the same people that vote against public education, the same people that vote against public education normally vote against healthcare, same people against healthcare vote against living wages—and you can go on and on—same people against living wages are normally against voting rights, and in the states, if you can build a from-the-bottom-up, indigenously led, fusion coalition, you can have the kind of transformation we’re beginning to see in North Carolina in the South.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back—I want to go back to what’s being called a legislative coup in North Carolina. This is Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the state Republican Party, speaking to reporters Thursday.

DALLAS WOODHOUSE: People ask the question: Do two wrongs make a right? I think it is the inevitable outcome of divided government, and the checks and balances that come with it, and the checks and balances the people voted for. Roy Cooper is still going to be the governor. He still gets the keys to the mansion at some point on January 1st. He still gets to use the bill ballroom. And when Republican bills come to him, he can sign them. He can choose not to sign them or let them come into law. Or, in most cases, he can sit there and be overridden. That’s the system we have.

REPORTER: Didn’t voters pick Roy Cooper with the assumption that these were the powers that the governor had when Election Day occurred, and they’ve seen what Pat McCrory has done with those powers and whether or not they’ll give him another four years with those responsibilities?

DALLAS WOODHOUSE: I don’t know that I can answer that.

REPORTER: Yeah.

DALLAS WOODHOUSE: I mean, the voters can, at times, be contradictory. But they did—you know, Cooper won one election. We won 109 in the General Assembly and a whole bunch of statewide council state seats that we hadn’t had before.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state Republican Party. If you can respond, Reverend Barber, to what he says? And also, go through the bills. I mean, it is just astounding what’s happening. Is it something like—

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Twenty-two.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the powers that they are trying to strip. Now, the incoming governor is saying he may well sue.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Yeah, and we may, as well, because we believe there are a lot of violations, even equal protection violations, here, maybe violations of the Voting Rights Act, violation of open meeting laws.

And first of all, you have to know who Dallas Woodhouse is. And I don’t normally comment too much about him, because he’s—he has so little credibility. His own brother has called him a racist. He’s the executive director that sent out a memo after we won our voter suppression case in the courts, and the courts unanimously said that the Republican Party, the extremists, had engaged in surgical racism. He sent a memo out to state—to local boards of election, telling them to put in place rules that reflected Republican values and not what the courts had said. So, over and over again, this man has—you know, just has no integrity when it comes to telling the truth.

So, first of all, they did not win the Legislature, because they won. The current makeup of our Legislature is the result of the worst redistricting we’ve seen since the 19th century. And that’s why the courts have said this Legislature must have a new election next year. It’s normally every two years. The lines must be redrawn, and they must have a new election, because the people elected now are—the General Assembly is unconstitutionally constituted. That’s number one.

Number two, the powers that—when he says "use the ballroom," that is not the role of the governor. The governor ran an at-large election and was elected. And what they’re trying to do now, for instance, they want to change the governor’s ability to have his own Cabinet. They want it to come through the Senate, because they do not want the governor to put in place persons that will help him implement Medicaid expansion, or fight for it, and more money for public education and stop sending money to private schools. They do not want that. They do not want this governor to really be able to push the issues of living wages and voting rights. So they want to limit his ability, to make him have to go through the Senate in order to get his approval.

Number two, while we blocked them from changing the Supreme Court, they now want to force the cases to have to go from superior court to a 15-judge appellate panel. They want all the appelllate judges to hear it, rather than a panel, before it goes to the Supreme Court, because now the Supreme Court is a more progressive court.

Number three, they’re trying to block his appointments on the state Board of Election, because we have somebody now who was elected state public superintendent who is actually really anti-public schools. And they’re trying to block his ability to appoint people to the UNC Board of Trustees. And we’re still reading some more of the bills that they are pushing through. I mean, everything hasn’t even been read.

But this is really their fear. I want the listeners to hear this, Amy. They are afraid. They are fearful. They know, for instance, that 58 percent of North Carolinians want Medicaid expansion. Almost 80 percent of North Carolinians want a living wage. And this Legislature would not even put it on the ballot so that North Carolinians could vote on that. They know that we have beat them in voter suppression. We beat them over redistricting. And they see this tide rising. They see, if you look at the pictures yesterday, black and white and Latino people standing together in the Deep South. And they know that if we have policy movement along with this kind of moral movement, it will not only energize North Carolina, but it could energize the rest of the South and cause people to stand up and see that we are no longer in the minority, if we engage in real fusion politics. This is—this is Herod—in this Christmas season, Amy, I like to say this. This is Herod politics, the politics of Herod. Herod, if you remember in the Christian story, was so scared of his power, so scared it was going to be taken, that he engaged in the most mean-spirited and vicious kind of attempts to hold onto power. We have a Herod Legislature, rather than a Legislature that is acting like the democracy that we live in.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Reverend Barber, specifically, what you mentioned about the necessity now for a new election to the Legislature, this almost seems like a last stand of the existing, gerrymandered Legislature—

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —before the new elections come next year. Could you talk about the impact of the Supreme Court decision taking away voting rights protections from many localities around the country, how that might affect the final decision on these redrawn districts?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, I actually think a lot of what we’re seeing a last stand. I think when President Obama was elected, for instance, and you had this fusion coalition—remember, he won in Virginia, won in North Carolina early on, Florida—I think that scared extremists, which is why you had the 15 who got together and said, "We’re going to block him from doing anything." You know, Jeff Sessions was in that group, who is now being proposed for the attorney general.

I think that the fact that Ryan and McConnell—we talk a lot about the racism of Trump, but look at the racism of McConnell and Ryan, because, for me, racism is not the KKK or David Dukes or calling somebody the N-word. It’s policy. It’s systemic racism. So, for instance, Ryan and McConnell and Boehner have held up fixing the Voting Rights Act for over a thousand days, almost over 1,200 days, since June 25th, 2013, when the Supreme Court passed this ill-fated decision in Shelby. Strom Thurmond only filibustered the Civil Rights Act of '57 for a day, 24 hours. These people have held up fixing Voting Rights Act Section 4, so that Section 5 can be implemented in states like North Carolina, for over 1,200 days. They're afraid. They are afraid of this possibility of us organizing all of America.

And I think that that’s the same thing you see here. This Legislature now has been told twice, by the highest courts, "You are racist. You have engaged in racist voter suppression and racist gerrymandering." They know they cannot win without this. For instance, what they did when they redistricted, they put 49 percent of black voters into 19 out of 50 Senate districts, and they put 51 percent of black voters into 27 out of 120 House seats. They did that to isolate, stack and pack the black vote, not just to disallow or keep black people from being elected, but to keep black and white people from forming fusion coalitions to elect progressive candidates. That’s what the game was. And all of that is falling apart now, every bit of it. And they see it falling apart in their face. And we have to understand what is at stake here.

And none of it, lastly, would have been possible if we had Section 5 preclearance. If Section 5 preclearance was in place—and the people in the Congress understand this—none of these laws that have been passed in the South would have been able to have been passed. And without them—and I think the story, Amy and others, that we have not talked about is, people talk about this election. Ari Berman says we’ve had almost 900 less voting sites in the black community in this election than we had in 2012. It could have impacted more than a million African-American voters. And we did not have one discussion in our national debates, candidates for president, about voting rights and racism as it relates to voting rights. That was a tremendous error during this campaign.

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