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Why Robinson should be concerned about the GOP-led legislature’s continued power grab


Last week, when the Republican-led General Assembly finally, after an almost three-month delay, ratified a new $30 billion state budget, it was clear that this was yet another step towards draining more power away from the governor.

However, if 2024 GOP gubernatorial candidate Mark Robinson was paying attention, then it had to dawn on him that that power was not just being drained from the office that current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper holds, but the office that the Black lieutenant governor is vying to win.

Make no mistake, there is a key reason why legislative Republican leaders do not want a strong North Carolina governor of either party in office. They believe that they best represent the interests of North Carolinians, and thus, they, not the governor, deserve to tip the scales of power and influence under the state’s Constitution.

“It’s a power grab by the majority,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) told The New York Times last week after Republicans passed a budget provision taking away election board appointment power from the governor. “There’s nothing unusual about what autocrats try to do once they get control. They try to keep it.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger seemed to confirm Sen. Blue’s contention, justifying why legislative Republicans also stripped the Governor’s Office of appointments to community college boards.

“I think if you look at the Constitution, the Constitution places responsibility for higher education with the legislature,” Berger told reporters last May. “And it’s my belief that the legislature is in a good position to make those kinds of decisions.”

It is that belief that explains why North Carolina’s governor is considered one of the weakest in the nation. Ever since Republicans took over the legislative majority in 2011, they have been steadily chipping away at Executive Branch authority, shifting powers away originally granted the governor by the state Constitution.

Gov. Cooper has successfully fought back against at least one of several attempts at legislative power grabbing, but he only has one more year left in office. A year from now, what other current executive powers will be sapped away by Republican legislative leaders?

That won’t be Cooper’s concern, but will be his successor’s. If that successor is either Democrat Josh Stein or Mike Morgan, Republicans couldn’t be happier.

But if it’s Mark Robinson, it will underline a second key reason why legislative Republicans won’t shed too many tears.

Robinson is not one of them.

No, that is not a direct reference to his color, though that may certainly be a factor in ways the GOP would never admit.

If Mark Robinson is elected the 76th governor of North Carolina, what his Republican colleagues very well may hold against him is that he did not arrive at the seat of power the same way that many of his predecessors did - by spending years as a state legislator paying his dues.

The Greensboro native has only served in state government since 2021, after an April 2018 viral video propelled what was a bombastic private gun advocate into politics in 2020. Robinson never served on his local school board or city council. Was never even appointed to an office, local, county or state. Instead, he was chosen to run for lieutenant governor and won the second highest office in the state because his pro-gun rhetoric, conservative culture war views and Black skin were seen by Republicans as an effective foil against Democrats.

Robinson effectively leapfrogged over several Republicans who served many years in the legislature, dreaming of the day they might run for the top office of the state. Now at least three of the four Republicans opposing Robinson in the coming March 5th gubernatorial primary can say they've earned their political stripes where he comparatively did not.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell served as a Republican member of the N.C. General Assembly from 2005 to 2013, and also served as Speaker Pro Tempore. Despite his moderate politics, Folwell’s knowledge of state government is unquestioned.

Former state Sen. Andy Wells served from 2015 to 2020, after serving in the N.C. House from 2012 to 2015.

Former pastor and Congressman Mark Walker represented North Carolina’s Congressional Sixth District from 2015 to 2021. While he has no state office experience, his term as a moderate Republican congressman and 2022 run for the U.S. Senate put him on North Carolina’s political map.

The only Republican primary opponent Robinson faces who has no political experience is retired health care executive Jesse Thomas.

In three out of four primary choices beyond Robinson, Republicans can point to a candidate with a legislative record, and with at least two of these choices, years of a working knowledge of how the state legislature works.

Robinson has nothing of the sort.

But when it comes to power, that’s where not having that working knowledge will cost Robinson if he is elected governor in 2024.

As it stands, the Greensboro native’s only claim to fame is the bully pulpit, an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, and being able to attract more attention to his cause than any other North Carolina Republican standing. What happens when “Governor” Robinson does not agree with a measure passed by his colleagues in the Republican-led legislature?

Does he pick a public fight with them, calling on his legions of Trump - MAGA supporters to back him up? And how often does “Governor” Robinson do that over a four-year period?

The question must be asked because in all likelihood, Robinson will be facing a veto-proof Republican legislative majority, which would likely ignore his public opining, and not give him the respect he’ll feel he deserves.

And if he sues his fellow Republicans to get his way, Robinson will be at the whims of a GOP majority N.C. Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court, both of which seem predisposed towards favoring the legislature.

If “Governor-could-be” Mark Robinson has any doubt just how tough a Republican-led state legislature can be on a fish-out-of-water Republican governor, he should call former N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory for advice.

By all accounts, despite a very successful 14-year tenure as mayor of Charlotte, that meant nothing to Republicans on Jones Street when it came to Gov. McCrory flexing power and demanding respect.

“Critics say the Republican-majority legislature set the agenda even with one of their own in the governor’s mansion,” wrote the News & Observer in October 2020. “They led Pat McCrory, as a Republican governor, around by the nose. He essentially was a rubber stamp for them.”

If Mark Robinson seriously intends to be elected a respected, influential governor of the state of North Carolina, he would do well to consider all of the facts above, and then ask himself what purpose is he serving running for an office that is the weakest in the nation, and is he willing to become nothing but a political figurehead, doing the bidding of fellow Republicans with more power than he’ll constitutionally have?