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North Carolina Governor Gets Initial Win In Fight Over Cabinet

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) – A three-judge panel has sided at least temporarily with North Carolina Democratic Governor Roy Cooper in his fight against a Republican-backed attempt to curtail his powers by requiring legislative confirmation of cabinet appointments.

The law was among a series of measures approved by lawmakers in December limiting Cooper’s executive authority after he defeated incumbent Republican Governor Pat McCrory.

Cooper sued to block it, arguing that requiring Senate consent to his cabinet secretaries was unprecedented and unconstitutional.

In an order Tuesday evening, the trio of state judges said the governor was likely to succeed in his challenge.

“The court is absolutely correct in their decision and should not be intimidated by threats from legislative leaders,” Cooper said in a statement on Wednesday.

Eight of the 10 cabinet secretaries for the state have been appointed and sworn in.

The temporary restraining order halted a hearing set for Wednesday to review Cooper’s appointee for secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Republican lawmakers vowed they would eventually meet to review the cabinet members’ qualifications and potential conflicts of interests.

Republicans have said such confirmation hearings were lawful and would serve as a check on executive power.

Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, said the judges were legislating from the bench and called on them to reverse their order.

“In a gross misreading of the Constitution and a blatant overstep of their Constitutional authority, three Superior Court judges attempted to dictate to the legislature when it could or could not hold committee meetings and what it could or could not consider in those meetings,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

“If these three men want to make laws, they should hang up their robes and run for a legislative seat.”

The judges said they would hear the governor’s motion for a preliminary injunction on Friday. A trial on the issue is scheduled for March 7.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper speaks to supporters at a victory rally the day after his Republican opponent and incumbent Pat McCrory conceded in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Judge Blocks Law Limiting Incoming North Carolina Governor’s Power

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) – A North Carolina judge on Friday temporarily blocked a state law hours after incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper sued to void Republican-backed legislation lessening his control over state and county elections boards, local media reported.

Cooper’s transition team described the measure, which would have abolished the current state elections board on Sunday, when he will be sworn in during a private ceremony, as “unconstitutional legislative overreach.”

The law, enacted by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature during a special session this month, calls for the governor and legislature to appoint four members each to a new board evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, governors appointed a majority of members.

The measure also replaces three-member county elections boards, where the sitting governor’s party had the majority, with four-member boards made up of two Republicans and two Democrats each.

A temporary restraining order issued by a Wake County Superior Court judge will stop the law from taking effect on Sunday, WRAL.com reported.

Cooper’s lawsuit argues that the changes violate the state constitution’s separation of powers requirements by shifting control from the executive agency responsible for administering election laws to legislators, according to media reports.

The law was among a series of measures approved during a special session in mid-December to curtail Cooper’s executive authority before he succeeds outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory.

“This complex new law passed in just two days by the Republican legislature is unconstitutional and anything but bipartisan,” Cooper said in a statement. “A tie on a partisan vote would accomplish what many Republicans want: making it harder for North Carolinians to vote.”

McCrory, who trailed Cooper by about 10,000 votes when he conceded the race nearly four weeks after the Nov. 8 election, and other Republican leaders have argued the new elections law would help ensure a fair voting process.

Senate leader Phil Berger on Friday criticized Cooper’s legal action.

“Roy Cooper’s effort to stop the creation of a bipartisan board with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans to enforce elections and ethics laws may serve his desire to preserve his own political power, but it does not serve the best interests of our state,” Berger said in a statement.

(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

IMAGE: North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper speaks to supporters at a victory rally the day after his Republican opponent and incumbent Pat McCrory conceded in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., December 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

North Carolina Governor Concedes Election To Democratic Opponent

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) – North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory on Monday conceded the state’s contested gubernatorial race to Democrat Roy Cooper, almost four weeks after the Nov. 8 election that many viewed as a referendum on a law limiting transgender bathroom rights.

The Republican incumbent had trailed his challenger since election night, when Cooper declared victory with a margin of fewer than 5,000 votes. McCrory refused to bow out, vowing to seek a recount and challenging the validity of votes his campaign said may have included ones cast by felons or dead people.

As of Monday, the state’s unofficial election results showed Cooper’s lead had grown to 10,263 votes as counties continued to tally ballots. McCrory was entitled to a recount only if he trailed by 10,000 votes or less.

In a video message issued by the governor’s office, McCrory said Cooper had won “the closest North Carolina governor’s race in modern history.”

“Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process, I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken,” said McCrory, who sat on a couch with a Christmas tree in the background in the video.

Cooper’s win over the one-term incumbent marks the only governorship picked up by Democrats nationally, while Republicans added governor seats last month in New Hampshire, Missouri and Vermont.

Cooper, the state’s attorney general, said serving as governor “will be the honor of my life.”

“While this was a divisive election season, I know still that there is more that unites us than divides us,” he said in a statement after his opponent’s concession.

The Democratic candidate’s bid benefited from a backlash against McCrory after he signed a state law in March that bans transgender people from using government-run restrooms that match their gender identity and limits protections for gays and lesbians.

The law, the only of its kind in the United States, drew national attention. It has been blamed for hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses and the relocation of major sporting events from the country’s ninth most populous state.

Opponents of the measure, known as House Bill 2, said a McCrory defeat would have national implications.

“McCrory’s stubborn and reckless support of HB 2 cost him this election, and his defeat sends a powerful warning to lawmakers across the country that targeting LGBTQ people will not be tolerated,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

IMAGE: North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory tells supporters that the results of his contest against Democratic challenger Roy Cooper will be contested, while his wife Ann looks on, in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. in this file November 9, 2016 photo.  REUTERS/Jonathan Drake/File Photo

North Carolina Extends Voting Time In Eight Durham County Precincts

WINSTON SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) – North Carolina has extended voting times in eight Durham County precincts after problems with electronic voting rolls there earlier in the day, the state election board said on Twitter.

Advocates including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had urged the state to extend voting time in Durham County until 9 p.m. EST (0500 GMT), an hour and a half past normal closing time.

However, the state board extended voting time by an hour in two precincts, and less than that in six others.

The Reverend William Barber, president of the NAACP in North Carolina, told members of the State Board of Elections on their conference call Tuesday evening that their refusal to extend voting hours as long as requested by local elections officials was “deeply concerning.”

At one precinct where voting was extended for 60 minutes, election officials reported there had been up to a two-hour window earlier in the day where no voting took place due to problems.

“We’ve fought too much voter suppression in this state over and over again,” Barber said.

A representative for the North Carolina election board, which is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, could not immediately be reached for comment.

North Carolina is a crucial battleground state in the U.S. presidential election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston Salem, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Sandra Maler and Lisa Shumaker)

IMAGE: Voters fill out their ballots on election day for the U.S. presidential election at Elevation Fire Station in Benson, North Carolina November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Police Probe Arson, Graffiti Threat at North Carolina Republican Office

By Colleen Jenkins

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) – Police in North Carolina sought leads on Monday about a fire they said was deliberately set at a local Republican headquarters over the weekend and a graffiti message warning the political party to “leave town or else.”

Investigators are treating the incident as arson. The fire caused heavy damage to the Orange County Republican Party’s office in Hillsborough, North Carolina, located about 40 miles from the state capital of Raleigh. No arrests have been made.

“This is political terrorism,” Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in a phone interview.

The crime occurred less than a month before the Nov. 8 election. Both Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton condemned the attack. North Carolina is considered a battleground state that could play a pivotal role in the presidential contest.

“We are taking this incident very seriously and have significant resources at the local, state and federal level committed to this investigation,” Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton said in a statement on Monday, asking anyone with information to come forward.

Hillsborough police said a bottle containing flammable material ignited after being thrown through a front window of the headquarters between midnight and about 9 a.m. on Sunday, when a nearby business owner reported the crime.

“Someone has firebombed through the window (of) the Republican party up here beside me and sprayed all over the side of my building, ‘Nazi Republicans leave town or else,'” the caller told a 911 operator in a call released on Monday.

A swastika also was spray-painted on the neighboring building, police said. They said no one was in the party office at the time, but the substance burned furniture and charred campaign signs.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest praised the efforts of self-described Democrats who raised about $13,000 in an online GoFundMe campaign to help Republicans reopen the office.

“That’s consistent with the values that we lift up in this country,” he said at a news briefing on Monday. “There is no justification for the use of violence to advance a political agenda.”

In a tweet on Sunday, Clinton said she was grateful no one was hurt in the attack, which she called “horrific and unacceptable.”

Trump blamed his Democratic opponent’s supporters for the crime.

“Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning,” he said on Twitter.

Registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in Orange County, according to elections board data. President Barack Obama won 70 percent of the vote there in the 2012 presidential election.

Despite those statistics and the divisive nature of this year’s presidential race, local Republicans said the incident took them by surprise.

They remained undeterred, however, starting the clean-up at their strip-mall headquarters and getting back to work on Monday in a bus being used as a mobile office.

“We’re not going to be intimated, we’re not going to be cowed,” Woodhouse said.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by G Crosse and Leslie Adler)

Photo: Evelyn Poole-Kober views the damage caused in a firebomb attack on local offices of the North Carolina Republican Party in Hillsborough, North Carolina, U.S. October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Fake Buyers Like ‘Racist McShootFace’ Hijack Trayvon Martin Gun Sale

Bidding in an online auction for the pistol George Zimmerman used to shoot and kill unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 topped a total of $65 million on Friday, though the amount appeared to be inflated by fake buyers with names such as “Racist McShootFace.”

Zimmerman drew wide criticism on Thursday after offering to sell the Kel-Tec PF9 9mm handgun, which the former neighborhood watch volunteer described in the auction listing as “an American Firearm Icon.”

Zimmerman said the weapon was used to defend his life and “end the brutal attack” from Martin. Martin’s family has said the 17-year-old was simply walking home after buying a drink and candy from a local store when he had his fatal encounter with Zimmerman.

Martin’s killing near Orlando, Florida, sparked nationwide civil rights protests and debate over “stand your ground” laws, which let people use deadly force without a duty to retreat if they are in fear of being harmed. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the case.

By lunchtime on Friday, bidders in the auction on the United Gun Group’s website included “shaniqua bonifa” and “Tamir Rice,” the same name as the 12-year-old black boy shot dead by a white police officer in Cleveland in 2014.

The auction is scheduled to end on Wednesday. USA Today reported that the bid by “Racist McShootFace” was later deleted.

The auction began on Thursday after the first site where Zimmerman attempted to sell the gun rejected the listing. That site, GunBroker.com, said in a statement that it wanted no part in the auction or the attendant publicity.

 

‘LETTER OF THE LAW’

A listing for the gun then appeared on UnitedGunGroup.com, with a starting price of $5,000. By midday on Friday it had received more than 1,000 bids.

United Gun Group said in a statement that as long as Zimmerman was obeying “the letter of the law,” the sale of his personal firearm would be allowed on the site.

“While not always popular, this is where we stand. There are principles this nation was founded on, and our goal is to do our part to defend liberty,” United Gun Group said.

“We know that many lives have been forever impacted by the incident February 26, 2012, and we’re truly sorry to the Martin family for their loss. We will have no further comment on the matter.”

The website calls itself a “free social network and marketplace that embraces the 2nd amendment and lawful discussion.” The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It is contained in the Bill of Rights.

In the auction listing, Zimmerman said he would use money from the sale to counter violence against law enforcement officers by Black Lives Matter, a movement that grew out of Martin’s shooting. Proceeds would also go toward fighting Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s “anti-firearm rhetoric,” Zimmerman said.

According to the listing, the pistol is marked with the number from the Martin case in silver ink and the listing included multiple photographs of the weapon being displayed in court during Zimmerman’s trial.

The listing closed with a Latin phrase, “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum,” meaning “if you wish peace, prepare for war.”

A lawyer for Martin’s family called the sale offensive but said it would not distract the family from their work advocating against gun violence.

Zimmerman has previously sold on eBay a painting depicting the American flag, and a painting he did of a Confederate flag to raise money for a Florida gunshop owner who declared his store a Muslim-free zone.

 

(Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Tom Brown)