In an interview with the INDY, Congressman G.K. Butterfield – a Democrat who represents Durham and is the outgoing chair of the Congressional Black Caucus – expressed his frustration with the current special session, the legislation being considered, and Republican governance in the state overall.
Speaking to the INDY via phone, Butterfield, echoing other Democrats, said that the new special session shows that the flood relief package was “only a pretext to get members back in town.”
“[The special session] has opened Pandora’s box for a flood of legislation,” he said. “What makes it so suspect is that it’s at the end of Governor McCrory’s term. My question is, why not wait until the regular session of the legislature to bring up these issues? The timing is obvious.”
Butterfield, who served on the North Carolina Supreme Court from 2001-2002, said that one of the most troubling pieces of legislation being considered is HB 17, which reintroduces partisan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court races and requires constitutional challenges to be heard at the lower levels before going to the Supreme Court, as they currently are.
“Having served on the Supreme Court, I can tell you it’s the proper place for a constitutional challenge,” he said. “For the legislature to politicize the court, it’s going to have negative view for the public of not only the legislature but the court system. The legislature needs to be doing all they can to uphold the integrity of the court.”
“The court is 4-3 in terms of party affiliation,” he continued. “It will probably be a middle of the road court, not extreme in either direction, but the Republicans want an extreme court.”
Another bill, SB 4, merges the state Board of Elections and state Board of Ethics to be one eight-member “bipartisan” board, and also makes the county boards of elections four-member bipartisan boards well. Currently, the governor’s party – Republicans – control those boards. Butterfield said that this bill “implicates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
During committee hearings Thursday, supporters of the bill mentioned Durham challenges — which were unfounded, as proven by the recount in Durham — as a reason why elections reform was needed. Butterfield said he was “outraged” at charges that the Durham elections process was somehow corrupted.
“Durham is a model for fair elections and has been for years,” Butterfield said. “The Durham Board of Elections has a Republican majority…[Durham] reported that nothing went afoul, but yet [the McCrory campaign] insisted on having the recount. Durham shouldn’t be used as an example of misconduct.”
Butterfield said the special session is part of a larger trend in Republican governance in the state — and believes this could be indicative of what Republicans at the federal level could do once Donald Trump takes office next year. “I call it a testing ground for alt-right and ultra-conservative ideas,” Butterfield said. “The people of North Carolina are going to see through this power grab on the part of Republicans. It reinforces the negative image that North Carolina now has to the nation, which is very unfortunate.”
Pushing back against claims that Democrats similarly restrained Republicans during the Hunt administration, Butterfield said the Republicans were a “very marginal” party during the 1970s, and even then, the current moves by the North Carolina legislature are unprecedented.
“They were not a major force in the state,” he says. “The changes during the Hunt years were negligible, were minuscule compared to what the legislature is trying to do today…Requiring Senate confirmation for cabinet appointments? We’ve never done that before.”
“North Carolina has always been known as a progressive state, that’s desirable to work, and do business, and live,” Butterfield said. “But we’ve tarnished that reputation…I’m encouraging the NAACP to get actively involved in this issue, because it’s a national issue.”