By Mary Swann Parry
What’s happening at our NC General Assembly this week is not democracy. The people of North Carolina were told that a Special Session was being called on December 13 to address recovery from Hurricane Matthew and western wildfires, a top priority indeed. But immediately after gaveling that session to a close, leaders then called for a new Special Session to consider a number of different bills that were clearly proposed to gain quick, partisan power before Governor-elect Roy Cooper takes office (in just a couple of weeks).
Understanding that the NC Legislative Complex is open to the public for purposes of maintaining a transparent government, I decided to attend as many meetings as I could, to try and make sense of what was going on. The majority party didn’t make it easy for the people to follow along or take part. House and Senate meeting start times were set, then delayed by an hour or more each time, causing citizens to wait, over and over again, without being offered a trustworthy schedule or agenda, or reasons this work couldn’t wait until their next regularly occurring session in January.
On Wednesday and Thursday, with continued, unpredictable recess breaks and still no set schedule, legislators began proposing and passing bills that seemed in no way an emergency, requiring this special session. In fact, many bills looked to be an obvious overreach – an abuse of power – related to limiting our new governor’s power before he takes office.
By Thursday, as final bills were being debated on the floor of the House and Senate, protesters were lining House and Senate galleries to show concern for our democracy. I witnessed unprofessional behavior from Senate and House members mocking requests for more bill debate or pleas to table issues until the next regularly scheduled session, after the holidays. But, with legislators feeling safe in their gerrymandered districts, pleas by the minority party were ignored and votes were taken anyway. Even protesters were mocked by the party in power. Senators smirked at other legislators who dared question the bills or process. House members openly laughed as citizens were asked to leave because they chose to speak up and ask for public opinion to be heard. It was hard to watch our democracy become so fragile.
I’ll be back at the NCGA today for more observation of our state leaders and this shadowy attempt to circumvent our democratic rules of government. I’m not sure I would have believed how corrupt and unprofessional this process has been, had I not witnessed it first hand. Sharing article links on social media has a much different feel and impact than showing up in person when your democracy needs you. I’m proud of our state’s history and will continue to show up and speak out for our future. If you’re interested, come to the NC Legislative Building at 16 West Jones Street in Raleigh at 10am. Send a message to our state leaders that We the People are still a central focus of this democracy.