RALEIGH, N.C. -- Environmental advocates and other political activists on Thursday called on Gov. Pat McCrory to halt what they called a Republican power grab in Raleigh.
Standing behind a sign reading “Power mad, power grab,” group leaders converged on uptown Charlotte and called for McCrory to denounce Senate Bill 10, which would allow Republicans to replace members of several state regulatory commissions and boards.
They asked the governor to veto the bill and address conflicts of interest he might have.
The bill, which was approved by the Senate last week, would allow McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly to replace – and in some cases reduce – the number of members of the state’s Industrial Commission, Environmental Management Commission and Utilities Commission, among others.
The Utilities Commission regulates rates and services for public utilities in North Carolina, including Duke Energy.
McCrory worked for Duke Energy for nearly 30 years.
“The fox isn’t just guarding the hen house anymore,” said Beth Henry of NC WARN, a nonprofit environmental group. “He’s about to walk in the front door with a knife and fork in hand and a napkin around his neck.”
But Republicans said the bill would allow the new administration to start fresh with commission members who share their philosophy.
It would also save the state $2 million a year by eliminating or downsizing some boards, they said.
Thursday’s press conference was one of several arranged by Progress North Carolina, a liberal advocacy group.
Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress North Carolina, said McCrory’s support for Senate Bill 10 shows he is shifting to the political right.
McCrory already has said that the state will opt out of a federally funded Medicaid expansion, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, which many Republicans oppose.
This week the GOP-dominated Senate voted for legislation that would increase the requirements to qualify for unemployment benefits, reduce the maximum benefit to unemployed workers and cut the number of weeks a person could collect unemployment.
The bill is now awaiting the governor’s signature.
According to the National Employment Law Project, a group that serves jobless workers, North Carolina’s cuts to unemployment insurance would be the harshest among all states.
North Carolina has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates at 9.2 percent.
“(McCrory) was a moderate when he was first elected to the (Charlotte) City Council and first elected mayor,” said Mark Sumwalt, a workers’ compensation attorney who spoke against the Senate bill Thursday. “But he’s been going further right the entire time.”
If approved, Senate Bill 10 would downsize and the end the terms of current members on the state’s Coastal Resources Commission, Coastal Resources Advisory Council and Environmental Management Commission.
For the Wildlife Resources Commission, it would increase the number of members appointed by the General Assembly and reduce the number appointed by the governor.
Catawba Riverkeeper Rick Gaskins said it takes years to understand complex environmental rules and regulations.
“It doesn’t make sense to throw them all out,” he said.