It has been nearly six months since voters in North Carolina elected Democrat Roy Cooper as governor. Republican lawmakers responded by waging what many described as a legislative coup to strip away much of Cooper’s power. Meanwhile, Republicans in North Carolina are attempting to solidify their legislative power by passing a series of new laws to restrict voting rights. This comes despite a report by the Electoral Integrity Project that determined that North Carolina’s democratic institutions are so flawed the state should no longer be considered a functioning democracy. We speak to Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of Facing South.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are broadcasting from Raleigh, North Carolina. We’re going to turn to look at the state of politics here in the state’s capital and in the state, North Carolina. It’s been nearly six months since voters elected Democrat Roy Cooper as governor. Republican lawmakers responded by waging what many described as a legislative coup to strip away much of Cooper’s power. Meanwhile, Republicans in North Carolina are attempting to solidify their legislative power by passing a series of new laws to restrict voting rights. This comes despite a report by the Electoral Integrity Project that determined that North Carolina’s democratic institutions are so flawed the state should no longer be considered a functioning democracy.
I’m joined here in Raleigh by Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies, publisher of Facing South.
Chris, it’s great to have you back.
CHRIS KROMM: Welcome back to North Carolina.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what North Carolina faces today and your assessment. This report that says North Carolina is no longer a functioning democracy?
CHRIS KROMM: Oh, it’s remarkable. I think North Carolina definitely is ground zero. It’s a cautionary tale about what can happen with unfettered conservative rule, but also about the possibilities of resistance. You know, you think back historically, North Carolina was always viewed as this moderate state. But then, really fueled by big money, in 2012 — 2010, there was a sharp rightward turn, and you saw trifecta conservative control in the state, much like you see nationally now, so you understand what we’ve been going through here in North Carolina, at the federal level. And really, there was an outright, full-scale attack on workers’ rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights — the very elements of democracy — as that report pointed out.
But really, there was also kind of a resistance movement that formed. We know about the Moral Monday movement. We know about the legal challenges that ended up striking down a lot of those laws. And then there was an electoral surge we saw last year, where there was a Democratic governor elected. One of the most progressive attorney generals was elected. The Supreme Court is now progressive majority. And so, really shows about how deeply contested North Carolina is and, I think, really a bellwether for the rest of the country.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what is being described as a legislative coup against the new governor.
CHRIS KROMM: Well, as soon as McCrory was voted out of office, there was a special session that was held in December, and, immediately, the Republicans, who still had a majority in the House and the Senate, went to work with a slew of bills that were really aimed at trying to limit the control of the new governor, limiting the kind of appointments that he could do, trying to change the way the election boards were set up. And it was pretty amazing just to see the full-scale attack. And they have a veto-proof majority. So, for each of these bills, Governor Cooper, who was elected by a narrow margin in the last election, has been able to veto these bills, but then they have the ability to overcome those vetoes. And a lot of them are going straight to court. The Cooper administration has said they’re going to legally challenge that these are overreach, that they violate the separation of powers, and that really it’s just an attempt — a power grab by the Legislature to try to hold onto that conservative control that they enjoyed since 2012.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the limiting of the governor’s powers, what Governor McCrory, who signed HB 2 into law, for example — what powers he had that Governor Cooper doesn’t.
CHRIS KROMM: Well, some of the biggest have to do with election boards. So, for example, knowing that this is going to be one of the key battlegrounds in the coming years, with a deeply contested state like North Carolina, there’s been a proposed complete overhaul of the whole election process. And so, it used to be that the governor could appoint member — the chair of the Board of Elections, that there would be a 3-2 majority for ever who was the governor — the party in power could have a 3-2 majority. Well, now they have a new bill where it’s going to be evenly divided, which of course means that they’re never going to have an agreement in these election board meetings, but, most critically, that Republicans at the local level will have the control on even-year elections. Well, of course, those are the most important elections in the entire state. And that’s when the Legislature is elected, Senate races, presidential races. And so, really, it is — was a full-scale power grab to try to put back the power to control the election process and democracy in the hands of the conservative-controlled Legislature.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the president of the North Carolina NAACP, Moral Mondays leader Reverend Dr. William Barber. He spoke to Democracy Now! earlier this year about voting restrictions.
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: North Carolina has been found guilty twice on voter suppression. Last August, we won a case that said their voter — so-called voter integrity law was a voter suppression law, when they cut early voting, cut same-day registration, denied 17-year-olds the right to preregister, and tried to pass not just photo ID, that the Help America Vote Act allows, but they actually wanted to pass the worst form of photo ID, which said that in this state, even if you had a college ID or a federal ID, it still would not be considered valid.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Kromm, responding to what Reverend Barber has to say and the whole issue of voting rights?
CHRIS KROMM: Well, North Carolina has just really been ground zero nationally for the whole voting rights struggle. And two key things happened last year. First of all, as Reverend Barber was pointing out, a court struck down key elements of this sweeping voting law that had been passed in 2013, which had voter ID. It slashed early voting days. It took away great programs like this teen preregistration program. If you’re 16, 17 years old and you wanted to learn more about politics, you could preregister for when you did turn of age. All those got knocked down. Well, a court said that that was overreach, that that was like almost surgical precision in the way that it discriminated against certain voters in the state. And so that ultimately got overturned. And a lot of those key provisions, which were considered really far-sighted reforms in North Carolina, were reinstated.
The other big one that came down, too, was the shooting down of the legislative districts, which had been so heavily racially gerrymandered in North Carolina. And the upshot of that is that next year they’re going to have to redraw the maps for at least 28 seats in the House and Senate. And that’s going to affect over 50 races in the state. And so, while the conservatives in power in North Carolina have been able to really engineer these lines down to a science to ensure that they could preserve, conserve and control, that means next year a lot of these are going to be redrawn. And a lot of them are going to be competitive again. And I think that’s going to make North Carolina a very interesting state to watch in 2018.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about North Carolina as the site in the South also of Trump support and what that means. But we’re going to go to a break first. We’re talking to Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We’re in North Carolina. Stay with us.