The North Carolina Coup: This is what happens when voter suppression stops working


I don’t know how well it’s being covered by the television news, but, at this very moment, there’s a coup underway in North Carolina, as the Republican legislature, which was ostensibly called back to the capitol for a special legislative session to deal with the aftermath of hurricane Matthew, started passing bill after bill intended to strip power from their incoming Governor, who is a Democrat. As I’ve got my hands full at the moment, I’m just going to hand you off to the Washington Post for the backstory. Here’s how their coverage begins.

Here’s what’s happening: After a close election, Democrat Roy Cooper defeated Republican incumbent Pat McCrory to win the governorship. So the Republican state legislature decided to call an “emergency” session before Cooper takes office and strip the governor of as many powers as it could.

The bills Republicans are pushing through the legislature would, among other things, cut the number of appointments the governor can make by 80 percent; make his cabinet appointments subject to state senate confirmation; transfer authority for the state board of education from the governor to the superintendent (a Republican ousted a Democrat this year in the election for that seat); move the authority to appoint trustees of the University of North Carolina from the governor to the legislature; and dilute the governor’s control over the state board of elections and mandate that the board will be chaired by a Democrat in odd-numbered years (when there are no elections) and a Republican in even-numbered years (when there are elections).

And they’re barely bothering to pretend that if a Republican governor is elected in four years they won’t just reverse most or all of these changes.

This isn’t just hardball politics. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic approach to government, one that says that when we win, we get to implement our agenda, and when you win, you don’t.

To put this in context, perhaps nowhere in the country have Republicans moved more aggressively to solidify power by disenfranchising their opponents as they have in North Carolina. Immediately after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Republicans enacted a voter suppression law that “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision,” in the words of the appeals court that later struck it down. The district lines already give the Republicans an enormous advantage: In 2016, Republicans outpolled Democrats in North Carolina congressional races by a margin of only 53-47, yet they held 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats.

So, if you’ve been wondering what happens when gerrymandering and voter suppression stop working, now you know.

If I were you, I wouldn’t give up on the people of North Carolina just yet, though. You see, they’ve got a secret weapon by the name of William Barber II, and he’s not the kind of man to just back down from a fight. [Reverend Barber, who I first told you about back in 2014, is the head of the North Carolina NAACP, and he’s one hell of an organizer.] When I heard that this was happening in North Carolina, Barber is the first person I looked to for the facts and I wasn’t disappointed by what I found. The following comes from a conversation Barber had earlier today with Democracy Now. This is Reverend Barber speaking to Amy Goodman.

“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… (T)hey’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…”

And, as Barber goes on to say, it’s no surprise that the far right is fighting as hard as they are over North Carolina, as the election of a Democratic Governor could foreshadow things to come in other southern states. Later in the Democracy Now interview, Reverend Barber says, “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.” So, with that said, is it any wonder that they’re trying to cripple their Democratic Governor before he takes office, shifting power to the conservative Lieutenant Governor and the Republican legislature?

If you can can believe it, they’re even talking about adding two more justices to the North Carolina state supreme court, in order to tip the scales back in the favor of conservatives.

Barber, always the optimist, went on to tell Goodman how he sees all of this playing out in North Carolina, and why it’s so significant. “They know that if we register 30 percent of the African-American voters, unregistered voters, in the South,” he said, “and if we add to that whites and progressive whites and Latinos, you will have changed the South.” He then went on to say, “And if you ever change that map and you ever gave deep down organizing that gets people to stop voting against their own interests, [have] 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.”

Let’s hope that he’s right… And let’s also learn from what we see going on in North Carolina right now, as it very well may be coming our way soon.

Here’s video of Reverend Barber shot at the North Carolina Legislative Building earlier this afternoon, as demonstrators were being arrested.

If you’d like to give to Reverend Barber and the North Carolina NAACP, you can do so here.

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  1. Taco Farts
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    The gun nuts were right. They’re also to blame, but they were right.

  2. Brad
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    They’re clearly better at this than progressives. We are all a bunch of pussies.

  3. City Watch
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    So this is all politics? Look around you. This sort of thing is happening everywhere in our daily lives. Getting over on people and playing by your own rules is everywhere. Custom, tradition, civility, laws….these things have all been rendered relative.

  4. Meta
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Background from the Atlantic’s “The Battle for North Carolina.”

    The Moral Movement coalition was instrumental in the passage of same-day voter registration in 2007. The measure was touted as a common-sense way to help the state’s turnout across all races, but same-day registration provoked stiff Republican opposition. The bill’s sponsor, then-state Representative Deborah Ross, now the Democratic challenger for Republican Richard Burr’s Senate seat, joined with a coalition of liberal groups to pressure the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly and Governor Mike Easley into adopting the provision. The movement had its first voting-rights victory.

    North Carolina vaulted from 37th to 11th in presidential election turnout from 2000 to 2012, an increase of 14 percentage points. The elections in 2008 saw historic turnout levels across the state. Black voters outpaced white voters for the first time in the state’s history, and then did so again in 2012.

    The one major wildcard in assessing the efficacy of voter laws in those elections was the candidacy of Barack Obama, who had the kind of paradigm-shifting effect on black registration and turnout as emancipation and the Voting Rights Act. According to the state Board of Elections, Warren County, which has one of the highest proportions of black voters in the state, had a turnout rate over 80 percent in 2008.

    That infusion of black voters—who mostly vote Democratic—helped to unseat Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole, deliver one of North Carolina’s House seats to a Democrat, and give the party the General Assembly, the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. Obama himself won North Carolina by a razor-thin margin of just over 14,000 votes.

    The causality of 2008 is still unclear: Did the Voting Rights Act and state voting expansions increase black voter turnout enough to hand the state to Democrats, or did Obama’s historic appeal to people of color change the composition of North Carolina’s electorate on its own? Republicans seemed to think both were factors, and the ensuing conservative backlash targeted black and Latino voters as well as Obama.

    That backlash included a fundraising and organizing blitz that built the infrastructure for a political counterrevolution. The subsequent midterm election was crucial, not just for the congressional seats themselves, but because the 2010 Census provided an opportunity to redraw both the state legislative and federal congressional district maps.

    Through an initiative named “REDMAP,” or the Redistricting Majority Project, Republicans coordinated party efforts across states to create Republican majorities in state legislatures. Operatives for the project poured money into obscure state assembly races in backwoods across the South, overwhelming the traditional analog campaigns of once-safe Blue Dog Democrats and of Republicans it deemed insufficiently conservative. Its efforts were bolstered by the Tea Party wave of voters galvanized by opposition to Obama and his agenda. The result, according to a REDMAP report, was a 700-seat swing across state legislatures nationwide, which it describes as “more success than either party has seen in modern history.”

    In North Carolina, spending on state races increased by 20 percent from 2008 to 2010, an investment poured mostly into Republican campaigns. Almost all of the independent money spent on state races in 2010 came from conservative millionaire mega-donor Art Pope, his family, and allied groups, who spread over $2 million across 22 races. Of those 22, Republicans won 18, creating GOP majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction. Only this time, Republicans were focused on restricting the electorate rather than expanding it.

    State House Representative David Lewis was one of the Republican leaders responsible for consolidating gains in the General Assembly with the actual drawing of new political districts. During the record-setting heat wave of summer 2011, Lewis and his partner, State Senator Bob Rucho, got to work.

    “We set about to draw districts that were fair and legal based on the law,” Lewis said. “We held an unprecedented number of public hearings—36 I believe—before we released maps. We studied the law very thoroughly … we complied with the Voting Rights Act as we understood it, and as it had been interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States.”

    The Moral Movement geared up for protests immediately after Rucho and Lewis unveiled the proposed maps, and registered official comments in one of the largest series of feedback sessions the General Assembly has ever had on redistricting.

    “They pass a redistricting plan that is not just worse than the rest of the 20th century, they go all the way back to the 19th century,” Barber says. “It’s what we called ‘apartheid redistricting.’ And because they didn’t remove any black districts; they didn’t take away any, then it really couldn’t be stopped by preclearance,” he said, referring to the provision in the Voting Rights Act that placed all voting law changes in certain counties and states under federal supervision.

    Under authority created by the Voting Rights Act, both parties had been creating “majority-minority” districts in redistricting plans. On the one hand, these districts often ensured the election of minority representatives en masse for the first time since Reconstruction, and new districts introduced new classes of black and Latino representation in Congress.

    Read more:

  5. Cassandra
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    “It Can’t Happen Here,” is a semi-satirical novel written in 1935 by Sinclair Lewis. The book centers on Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a populist candidate for U.S. President who runs on a platform of restoring patriotism, traditional values, and standing up for the “little man.” The book was written, and takes place, in the years following the Great Depression, when Mussolini and Hitler were already in power, and when many feared that fascism might gain a foothold here in America.

    In the book, Windrip’s campaign gains popularity through weekly sermons by popular “radio preachers,” but his core support comes from the “League of Forgotten Men” a mass movement made up millions of poor, blue-collar, and desperate lower-middle class people who – along with many wealthy industrialists – believe his vague but emphatic promises that if elected president, he will be bring them pride and prosperity. More ominously, Windrip also begins building a private militia to support his movement …

    Following a campaign that features overt appeals to racism, sexism, and anti-semitism, Windrip wins the election and becomes president. Once in office, he employs his private militia to jail opposition party leaders (calling it “protective detention”), rescind the power of the Supreme Court to overrule legislation, and threaten independent journalists. Next, he begins replacing the U.S. Constitution with his own 15-point plan – including weakening the powers of existing state and local governments – by changing their operating procedures, and by removing elected governors and other officials in favor of appointees who are more amenable to Windrip’s goals.

    Little by little, the Windrip regime becomes ever-more oppressive, and America transforms into an authoritarian state … all cheered along by millions of ordinary people who believe these radical steps are truly necessary to take power back from “entrenched elites” and restore them to the common man..

    Although it is a work of fiction (or, if you will, political satire), the parallels between what Lewis wrote more than 80 years ago and what is happening today are truly uncanny.

  6. DR
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    We are monsters.

  7. Jean Henry
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    The question of high or low road is pertinent. Republicans want to win at any cost. And they are shitty at governance as a result. I don;t think it’s a model to follow, unless we want to dismantle all institutional integrity. I think we need to work on a lot of bipartisan solutions. I’ve seen it in climate change. When the left adopts an issue, the right runs away. And with out some bi-partisan cooperation no legislation passes. Change can’t happen without it. So we have to figure out how to deal with sane people on the right without thinking that compromises our values. I care a lot about social justice, but I don;t require other people to care about it to work with them on related or not issues. That does not mean I have compromised my values. That’s me living my values. I can still speak my truth. I don’t require others to agree with me. I think being humane to one another is the only real way to move this culture forward. I would love to work with people on the far left or right too, but they are resistant to compromise or acceptance of differing viewpoints, so it often becomes impossible. Even when there are significant areas of agreement. Some groups bring the divisiveness to the process– and it’s not marginalized people or their allies for the most part (no they are not all leftists AT ALL) , and it’s not just the far right.

    But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values. Mr. Putin can weaken us just like he’s trying to weaken Europe if we start buying into notions that it’s OK to intimidate the press, or lock up dissidents, or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like.
    And what I worry about — more than anything — is the degree to which because of the fierceness because of the partisan battle, you start to see certain folks in the Republican Party and Republican voters suddenly finding a government and individuals who stand contrary to everything that we stand for as being OK, because that’s how much we dislike Democrats.
    I mean, think about it. Some of the people who historically have been very critical of me for engaging with the Russians and having conversations with them, also endorsed the president-elect, even as he was saying that we should stop sanctioning Russia and being tough on them and work together with them against our common enemies.
    It was very complimentary of Mr. Putin personally. Now that — that wasn’t news. The president-elect during the campaign said so. And some folks who had made a career out of being anti-Russian, didn’t say anything about it. And then after the election, suddenly they’re asking, oh, why didn’t you tell us that maybe the Russians were trying to help our candidate? Well, come on.
    There was a survey some of you saw where — not this just one poll, but pretty credible source, 37 percent of Republican voters approve of Putin. Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave. And how did that happen? It happened in part because for too long, everything that happens in this town, everything that’s said is seen through the lens of does this help or hurt us relative to Democrats or relative to President Obama. And unless that changes, we’re going to continue to be vulnerable to foreign influence because we’ve lost track of what it is that we’re about and what we stand for.”
    –President Obama, press conference 12/16/16

  8. Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Will someone remind me to ask Reverend Barber on the Saturday Six Pack?

  9. jean henry
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Ask Rev Barber on the Saturday Six Pack.

  10. Posted December 18, 2016 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Thank you.

  11. Morbid Larson
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Here is some more music from this band I am in.

  12. Maria Huffman
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    I liked the music. Very nice.

  13. Catherine Daligga
    Posted December 19, 2016 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    We need a Moral Monday movement in Michigan.
    Who’s ready to come together to help bring it into existence?

  14. Meta
    Posted December 23, 2016 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    The News & Observer: “North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy”

    In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.

    Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.

    That North Carolina can no longer call its elections democratic is shocking enough, but our democratic decline goes beyond what happens at election time. The most respected measures of democracy — Freedom House, POLITY and the Varieties of Democracy project — all assess the degree to which the exercise of power depends on the will of the people: That is, governance is not arbitrary, it follows established rules and is based on popular legitimacy.

    The extent to which North Carolina now breaches these principles means our state government can no longer be classified as a full democracy.

    First, legislative power does not depend on the votes of the people. One party wins just half the votes but 100 percent of the power. The GOP has a huge legislative majority giving it absolute veto-proof control with that tiny advantage in the popular vote. The other party wins just a handful of votes less and 0 percent of the legislative power. This is above and beyond the way in which state legislators are detached from democratic accountability as a result of the rigged district boundaries. They are beholden to their party bosses, not the voters. Seventy-six of the 170 (45 percent) incumbent state legislators were not even opposed by the other party in the general election.

    Second, democracies do not limit their citizens’ rights on the basis of their born identities. However, this is exactly what the North Carolina legislature did through House Bill 2 (there are an estimated 38,000 transgender Tar Heels), targeted attempts to reduce African-American and Latino access to the vote and pernicious laws to constrain the ability of women to act as autonomous citizens.

    Third, government in North Carolina has become arbitrary and detached from popular will. When, in response to losing the governorship, one party uses its legislative dominance to take away significant executive power, it is a direct attack upon the separation of powers that defines American democracy. When a wounded legislative leadership, and a lame-duck executive, force through draconian changes with no time for robust review and debate it leaves Carolina no better than the authoritarian regimes we look down upon.

    Read more:

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  1. By Dear Mr. Trump: Will You Advance a Moral Agenda? on December 30, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    […] written about him here a few times in the past. Most recently, as you may recall, we discussed his response to the legislative coup which just took place in North Carolina, stripping the incoming…. And, before that, I shared video of a speech I’d seen Barber deliver in Detroit on his […]

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