by John Ager, District 115 North Carolina House of Representatives
It has been like riding a bucking bronco at the Raleigh Rodeo for the month of December, and it has not been a story of peace and goodwill. In the history of the Tar Heel state’s general assembly, I do not believe we have witnessed the likes of January 2017. It all began in disaster; four disasters to be exact. There were the double tropical storms, Julia and Hermine, that flooded northeast North Carolina. There was hurricane Matthew, which was supposed to slam the coastlines, but dumped enormous amounts of rain in places like Robeson County and Fayetteville. And then there was the dry-as-a-bone western part of the state that caught fire. Emergency crews all over North Carolina were putting in long hours saving lives and personal property. Costs were mounting rapidly, but we were all thankful for the preparation these crews had made for this onslaught of disasters.
Let me just say that our local part of the disaster, the Party Rock fire, just over the mountain from our farm, brought out the best in our local communities. Our Fairview fire fighters put in long hours of hard work, along with many other local departments. Citizens donated everything from bottled water to work gloves in the vast quantities needed to sustain the almost 1,000 men and women trying to keep that monster fire in check. I was able to tour this fire with other legislators and learned just how effective the North Carolina Forest Service had been in organizing what was essentially a war zone, with people from all over the United States showing up to work. Paying the bills would ultimately be the job of the state and federal government.
To that end, Governor McCrory called a special session of the general assembly for December 13. Unfortunately, he left the purpose of this session open ended, fueling speculation that there were plans afoot to pack the NC Supreme Court in order to bring back a GOP majority. The idea had been floated in the Carolina Journal, and my inbox filled up with pleas not to allow such a tactic. The Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 was passed unanimously, and represented a down payment on the costs that North Carolina’s emergency personnel and others incurred. There were no surprise bills, and it looked like I was going to be able to go back to the mountains to enjoy Christmas with my family.
Minutes after adjournment on December 14, there was an extraordinary announcement that there would be a second special session called, with no announced agenda and no notice to legislators or citizens. What surprised me the most was the lack of a notice requirement. At our church, we have to give two weeks of notice for our congregational meetings, but the North Carolina general assembly does not? Moreover, I thought calling a special session required (as at my church) a statement of the reasons for the extra meeting. A deadline of 7 pm was set to introduce bills. Twenty-four bills rolled out just before this deadline, some of them over 40 pages and dealing with complex matters. It truly felt like an ambush of epic proportions and no way to run a legislative body. I scrambled to understand the proposals, and to get the word out to my constituents.
The favored bills were hustled through committees, and I found several education-related ones that I actually liked. But there were two partisan political bills (HB 17 and SB4) designed to take power away from Governor-elect Cooper (a Democrat), reducing his appointments from 1,500 to 425, and subjecting his cabinet appointments to judicial review for the first time in many years. There was a section specifically written to give the wife of the McCrory budget director a long-term appointment to the Industrial Commission. And there was much more. New powers were transferred to the Republican elected to manage our schools (Department of Public Instruction). Judge races would once again be made partisan. Boards of Elections, scheduled to be weighted in favor of the Democratic governor, were revamped in such a way as to allow the GOP to control them in even-year elections. And there was still much more. I received over 4,000 emails, every single one outraged by these actions. I really do not think power grab is too strong a phrase. You be the judge.
And as I write this column, out of the clear blue sky five days before Christmas, one more special session has been called to repeal HB2, the “bathroom” bill that has wrought havoc on our economy and reputation since last March. This afternoon (December 20) I will drive back to Raleigh and miss our Christmas party tonight, and spend less time with my grandsons who are visiting from Turkey. To be honest, HB2 and I have had a bad relationship, and I welcome the chance to stomp that sucker flat (to quote a great American, Lewis Grizzard!). What will the new year bring? Your legislature re-convenes on January 11. Stay tuned!
John Ager’s Contact:
NC House of Representatives
16 West Jones St, Room 1004,
Raleigh NC 27601-1096
John.Ager@ncleg.net or firstname.lastname@example.org
628-2616 / 713-6450 cell