As lawmakers head back to Raleigh for their long session, we’ve been talking to some of those legislators from out here in the west. One of the most influential lawmakers from our region is expected to be Representative Chuck McGrady, a Republican of Henderson County. McGrady will hold key positions in the legislature. Most notably as co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee, McGrady will have a key role in shaping the two year budget. I asked him about the recent special sessions, one in which lawmakers effectively stripped a number of powers from incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who had just won a narrow election. McGrady found the session problematic.
“It was. The optics were awful.”
Among the changes, lawmakers stripped a number of appointment powers from the Governor, reduced the number of hires he could make and merged the state board of elections and the state ethics commission, all after going back into session for the reason of providing disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Matthew and the Western North Carolina wildfires, and while demonstrators protested loudly outside the chamber doors. As McGrady said, the optics were bad, but he did support the bills.
“I do understand why a decision was made to move forward with that, because, again, if you’re going to make those changes, making them as you’re changing officeholders makes some amount of sense.”
McGrady said there were good reasons to support individual parts of the bills, like making Cooper’s cabinet appointees subject to Senate confirmation.
“You know it’s part of the North Carolina Constitution, and I just don’t have a real problem with the General Assembly, given the election, asserting the power that it actually has been given.”
McGrady understands why people were angry, though. Protesters likened the measures to a partisan power grab.
“And I have said to people we sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reasons. I’m not so naïve as to think that some of the changes we were putting in place were not motivated by the politics, and if we had tried to do the same thing at a different point in time, the votes wouldn’t have been there to do that.”
Partisanship reared its ugly head again just days later when the legislature returned for another special session to repeal House Bill 2. But the effort fell apart. Republican leaders would not offer a clean repeal, only one that also included a moratorium on new local ordinances like the city of Charlotte had passed that prompted lawmakers to pass HB2. McGrady said when it came to light that Charlotte had repealed only part of their ordinance as part of the deal to do away with HB2, trust was broken, even though Charlotte scrambled to repeal its entire ordinance before lawmakers went into session.
“It felt like, if you were a legislative leader or even a legislator, that ‘Yeah, now they’re coming back to repeal, but it’s only after we caught them, once again, trying to do something that we view is illegal.”
McGrady said that killed the deal.
“What is missing in politics these days is trust between the people, the decision makers. It’s really hard to get consensus and move forward on whatever the set of issues are when your leadership does not have relationships with each other, positive relationships with each other that allow them to discuss differences of opinion.”
McGrady said that relationship doesn’t exist between Republican leaders and Governor Cooper.
“To move forward on reconsideration of House Bill 2, it’s going to take some building of relationships between the primary players. I’m hopeful.”
McGrady says he’s been working to bring about a consensus on the issue. He’s also working on another issue, the issue of Asheville’s water. While the legislature was meeting, the State Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of the city of Asheville keeping control of its water system, in a blow to McGrady’s efforts for a regional authority. McGrady says he’s in talks with local leaders, including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, to find a solution that’s agreeable to all sides.
“I’ve been very upfront to say there were several ways to get to where we could get in terms of a regional water and sewer authority. We chose one way, and that now hasn’t worked. And I’m going to look back at the other ways to do the same thing. With that said, I’m not threatening.”
McGrady didn’t rule out more legislation but says he hopes it won’t come to that. All of those things occurred before the long session even got underway. Now McGrady and his colleagues are back in Raleigh to see if they can find agreement on some of those complicated issues.
You can hear the full conversation with Rep. McGrady above, and a shorter summary below.