RALEIGH, N.C. (WATE) – More than 50 protesters were arrested Thursday and Friday for disturbing North Carolina House and Senate floor sessions.
The tumult came during a surprise special session called by the North Carolina General Assembly, which has a Republican majority. The special session was originally called so that relief bills could be passed for wildfire and Hurricane Matthew relief, but lawmakers have also approved bills that would reduce the powers of the state’s governor.
Republicans call the special session a lawful effort to rebalance the branches of government before a new administration takes office. Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper takes office in two weeks. Democrats and hundreds of protesters says is an unconstitutional power grab by GOP legislators unhappy with the incoming Democratic governor.
Before adjourning, the Republican-controlled legislature passed two bills – one has already been signed by outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory. It merges the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission into one panel and prevents Cooper from putting a Democratic majority on the state elections board in 2017. The other bill presented to McCrory would force Cooper’s Cabinet choices to face Senate confirmation.
Friday, the session was disrupted for several minutes as protestors chanted “all political power comes from the people!” Finally, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore called for the Sergeant at Arms to empty the gallery.
Earlier on Thursday, about 200 demonstrators led by the state NAACP filled a first-floor Legislative Building atrium. They demanded loudly that Republicans accept the will of the voters in November’s election.
“There’s always going to be criticism and I thoroughly expect that from people who don’t support what we’re trying to do,” said Republican John Torbett.
Senator Angela Bryant, a Democrat, called the legislation being discussed, “a partisan power grab and swift of duties” that “disrespect[s] the voters of North Carolina.”
Shortly after the session adjourned, Cooper released the following statement:
“Once more, the courts will have to clean up the mess the legislature made, but it won’t stop us from moving North Carolina forward.”
The North Carolina GOP Chairman Robin Hayes issued a statement regarding the protesters on Friday afternoon:
Yesterday the rights of over nine million citizens were violated when a small mob formed inside the North Carolina House and Senate Chambers in an attempt to stop the duly elected representatives from debating critical issues.
We support the freedom and right of every citizen to speak for or against legislation, and well as the constitutional right to petition government for a redress of grievances. However, when a few hundred people decide to shut down the work of the General Assembly simply because they are against the outcome, we have gone from free speech to mob rule.
This would never be tolerated in Congress by either party and no legitimate legislative assembly in America. As the current chief law enforcement officer, Governor Elect Cooper has a duty to condemn this behavior now and in the future”
The North Carolina NAACP has called an emergency meeting to address the arrests.
WNCN and the Associated Press contributed to this story.