In 2012, North Carolina Republicans won a “trifecta” of legislative and executive power. They used their newfound power to aggressively gerrymander the electoral map and impose new restrictions on voting. In 2016, Democrats reversed those gains, narrowly toppling incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory—and the GOP Legislature responded by stripping the incoming executive of key powers and privileges. Before Democrats took their seats, Republicans ended the governor’s control of election boards, withdrew the office’s ability to make appointments to the state school board and the University of North Carolina’s Board of Trustees, slashed the overall number of jobs appointed by the governor from 1,500 to 300, and made Cabinet nominations subject to state Senate approval.
Rather than accept the will of the voters, who empowered the new governor to take the reins of the state government, Republicans entrenched their influence and undermined gubernatorial authority in an effort to avoid and undermine democratic accountability.
At the time, this anti-democratic maneuvering appeared exceptional to North Carolina. But in the wake of major Democratic victories in the 2018 midterm elections, it seems it was the canary in the coal mine.
Democrats won important victories in Republican-controlled Midwestern states that backed Donald Trump for president, in many instances, flipping the control of state legislatures. Democrats in Michigan won close races for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state while Democrats in Wisconsin won races for governor—sweeping incumbent Scott Walker out of office—and attorney general. Instead of allowing power to shift without contest, Republicans in both states are now fighting rear-guard actions to strip authority from these offices, using “lame duck” sessions to launch what are effectively legislative coup d’états.