NC gov veto attempts to strip AG Josh Stein of some powers


North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper speaks with reporters on Tuesday, September 14, 2021, outside the North Carolina Department of Transportation building after a State Council meeting in downtown Raleigh.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the Republican-controlled state legislature’s latest attempt on Monday to transfer executive powers – this time the attorney general – to himself.

Senate Bill 360 would have prevented any state agency from settling certain lawsuits without the approval of the North Carolina General Assembly. State agencies currently have the power to enter into settlement agreements if pursued.

The sweeping proposal was tabled months after the 2020 election, in which the North Carolina State Council of Elections and Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein settled a lawsuit by loosening postal voting rules to allow voters more flexibility during the coronavirus pandemic. They did so without legislative approval.

“This bill is unconstitutional and reckless, and would prevent the attorney general from doing his job to protect the people of North Carolina,” Cooper said in a statement announcing his veto.

Republicans have pointed to the settlement, which they characterize as both collusion and secrecy, as a reason why the legislation is needed. And they attacked Stein, a potential 2024 gubernatorial candidate, for his inability to defend state law.

Cooper, who was previously AG, was largely to veto the bill, as it reduces the power of the governor’s office while targeting the powers of the governor’s administration more broadly. If the legislature is a named party in or intervenes in a state lawsuit, it would have the ability to approve any settlement agreement.

“This bill is necessary to prevent corrosive and secretly negotiated rule changes from future elections,” said Senator Paul Newton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, in response to the governor’s veto. “Gov. Cooper has just deepened distrust of the electoral process at a time when we should be focusing on improving it. “

Struggle for power

Cooper’s veto is the latest loss for the GOP in a years-long struggle between the General Assembly and the executive branch over who should have what powers. Cooper’s veto also indicates that the electoral rules debate will continue to remain partisan ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

“Chief Electoral Officer Karen Brinson Bell and Attorney General Josh Stein behaved so blatantly and incorrectly last year that they lost the trust of many voters and lawmakers,” Newton said in a statement earlier this year. year. “This bill seeks to ensure that no Chief Electoral Officer, whether Ms. Brinson Bell or anyone else, ever has the power to secretly execute a mid-election law change. via a secret settlement with political allies. “

Republicans in large part prevailed in the 2020 election, even with those rules in place. The GOP retained its majority in the state legislature and swept statewide court races. Yet the party’s persistence in highlighting the dispute indicates lingering anger at the legislature’s lack of control. If Republicans had enough votes to overturn the governor’s veto, as they hope to do after the 2022 election, such a change in law could impact the legislature’s involvement in prosecutions beyond the election. .

“The concern I have about this is what that means, the long term consequences, for the state attorney general’s ability to settle a case that we might lose,” the Democrat said. Representative Pricey Harrison, of Greensboro, who opposed the bill, in a recent committee hearing.

Loosen the rules

The electoral council, made up of two Republicans and three Democrats, unanimously approved a legal settlement in 2020 of a lawsuit filed by prominent Democratic lawyer Marc Elias said electoral rules need to be relaxed to keep voters safe and avoid depriving them of the right to vote amid the pandemic, The News & Observer previously reported.

Republican legislative leaders called the deal “collusive” because the chief electoral officer was appointed by the state’s Democratic governor and the agency was represented in court by lawyers from the state. Office of the Democratic Attorney General.

Lawmakers say they were left out of the settlement process, and lawyers for Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore have previously said the deal circumvents General Assembly decisions to require the signature of a witness on the mail ballots, The News & Observer reported.

The legislature challenged the settlement agreement, which extended the deadline for mail-in ballots and relaxed the requirements for witness signatures. The nine-day extension for mail-in ballots made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court just five days before election day and prevailed.

Lawmakers proposed a bill on the issue a few months later, in March. He passed both houses in a party line vote, with support from Republicans and opposition from Democrats.

It is unclear whether the legislature will attempt to override the veto before the session closes in the coming weeks, as such a vote would not be passed without some Democratic support. A similar provision was included in the State House budget proposal, but excluded from the Senate version. The chambers are still working on a budgetary compromise.

For more information on North Carolina government and politics, listen to The News & Observer and NC Insider’s Under the Dome political podcast. You can find it at or wherever you get your podcasts.

This story was originally published September 27, 2021 3:40 pm.

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Lucille Sherman is a state political reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. Previously, she worked as a National Data and Investigations reporter for Gannett. Using the secure and encrypted Signal application, you can reach Lucille at 405-471-7979.

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