Republican lawmakers in North Carolina and Wisconsin are using their political influence to maintain control in states that have closely divided populations.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In 2020, North Carolina seemed the model of an evenly-divided swing state. Then-President Donald Trump barely won, beating Democrat Joe Biden by just over a percentage point. Meanwhile, the state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, won reelection by a relatively comfortable 5 points.
Last year, despite Republicans gaining two seats on the state Supreme Court, North Carolina’s congressional delegation was evenly divided between Democrats and the GOP.
However, it is the Republican Party that is currently making the decisions in the state due to their recent increase in seats in the legislature and assertive actions from GOP lawmakers. Despite objections from Democrats, they have successfully implemented voting changes and may potentially vote this week to limit the governor’s control over the state’s elections.
In either scenario, the governor’s veto is likely to be overridden by the Republicans due to their strong majority in the legislature.
The Republican legislative majority in Wisconsin, another state where the GOP has faced consecutive losses in statewide races, will soon implement significant changes following similar strategic moves.
Republican lawmakers there are trying to fire the state’s nonpartisan elections director and are considering impeaching a newly elected justice on the state Supreme Court. Her victory earlier this year gave the court a liberal majority that could strike down the Republican gerrymander that has given the party its outsized statehouse clout. Wisconsin voters have elected Democrats to all but one of the statewide executive offices that are decided on a partisan basis.
While both parties engage in gerrymandering, the dynamics in North Carolina and Wisconsin go beyond mere redistricting fights and offer a vivid illustration of how Republicans are attempting to maintain power regardless of their level of support among voters. The moves could give the GOP disproportionate influence over everything from partisan redistricting to the certification of next year’s presidential election.
Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University, stated that the ironic reason behind the intense political tactics in Wisconsin and North Carolina is the fact that both states are considered purple states. According to Cooper, Republican politicians in these states feel compelled to take action as they fear the potential loss of power.
Republicans in Wisconsin and North Carolina are aided by their parties’ geographic distribution during statehouse elections. Democrats are clustered in two metro areas of each state – Milwaukee and Madison in Wisconsin, and Charlotte and the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina. That makes it more likely that even fairly drawn legislative districts covering urban areas will be overloaded with Democrats, leaving fewer of the party’s voters to compete elsewhere and giving the GOP an edge in the remaining seats.
Last year in North Carolina, despite the congressional delegation being evenly divided, Republicans managed to secure a near supermajority of seats in the state legislature. They solidified their supermajority status this year after a Democratic House member changed her party affiliation.
In 2022, according to Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College in North Carolina, the number of competitive precincts statewide was less than 15%.
“He stated that manipulating districts in favor of one side or the other does not require a significant amount of creativity.”
The North Carolina General Assembly, which is controlled by the GOP, attempted to manipulate districts in a more biased manner by creating maps that heavily favored them. However, their strategy was deemed an unlawful gerrymander by the Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court.
However, since Republicans currently hold the majority on the court, they have indicated that the legislature can proceed with redrawing the districts in a way that heavily benefits their party in the upcoming year. This could solidify their supermajority position for multiple election cycles to come.
That’s occurring as the legislature muscles through two election bills that are propelled partly by Republican voters’ lingering beliefs of Trump’s lies that voter fraud cost him the 2020 election. One bill would end the state’s three-day grace period for mailed ballots arriving after Election Day and loosen poll-watching rules in a way that critics worry could lead to intimidation of voters.
The second one could have a greater impact. It would remove the governor’s ability to choose individuals for the state election board and transfer that responsibility to the legislature.
Supporters of the bill argue that by allowing leaders from both major parties to select an equal number of board members, it would encourage bipartisan collaboration and the adoption of election policies through consensus.
However, opponents argue that if the board is evenly divided between the two parties, it could result in a deadlock. This could potentially lead to the Republican-controlled legislature or the Republican-dominated courts making decisions to resolve the stalemates. This scenario could even impact the upcoming presidential election in the following year.
Under the legislation, there is a potential for the removal of the esteemed elections director in the state, which may occur shortly before the upcoming presidential election. It is worth noting that there have been no significant issues or worries regarding voting in North Carolina during her tenure.
Cooper expressed his opposition to these actions, emphasizing that they do not prioritize election security but rather solely aim to maintain and increase power for the Republican party.
Republicans argue that the legislature should have increased oversight over voting and other important regulatory functions. Governor Cooper has already vetoed a bill that would diminish his authority to appoint members to boards responsible for determining electricity rates, establishing environmental policies, and constructing roads.
Recently, Republican state Sen. Warren Daniel, who supports the broader appointments bill, emphasized that the legislature, being elected by the people of North Carolina, holds the power to select a diverse and competent group of appointees.
North Carolina’s governance has consistently reflected this pattern for many years. The state is known for its notably powerful legislature and relatively weaker governor. In fact, North Carolina was the last state in the country to grant veto power to its governor, which only occurred in 1997.
“I cannot reword.”
That stands in sharp contrast with Wisconsin, where until recently the Legislature acted like a fairly typical law-making body. But since Republicans won the statehouse in 2010 and drew heavily gerrymandered maps that guaranteed their party’s control of both chambers, the Legislature has become increasingly confrontational with the states’ Democratic governor, Tony Evers.
Republican legislators prevented Evers from appointing numerous individuals to state boards. Recently, the state Senate decided to dismiss the nonpartisan election director, which was met with an immediate legal dispute. Following the election of a justice supported by Democrats to the state Supreme Court, resulting in a shift from conservative to liberal majority after 15 years, the Legislature threatened to impeach her even before she had the chance to preside over a case.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos proposed last week that the impeachment could be dropped if Democrats agreed to a supposedly nonpartisan redistricting process. However, Governor Evers dismissed this proposal as insincere. Former Republican state senator Dale Schultz viewed Evers’ strong rejection as indicative of the alarming state of Wisconsin politics.
Schultz expressed that people would rather go hungry than settle for only half of what they desire. However, he primarily directed his criticism towards the tactics employed by the Legislature.
“He stated that there is a growing display of desperate actions to retain control.”
Riccardi provided coverage from Denver. This report also includes contributions from Associated Press writers Scott Bauer and Harm Venhuizen in Madison, Wisconsin.
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