Democracy Takes a Backseat in North Carolina

July 27, 2018
 Democracy  North Carolina

In a deliberate power-play, Republican legislative leaders take another swipe at North Carolina’s democracy by forcing a special session to take control of writing the ballot questions for their six proposed constitutional amendments. You should vote to nix all six of them.

Political transparency is the stuff of dreams in North Carolina. Republican state legislators have fogged over the glass of the political window, and with it, obscured any chance for North Carolinian voters to have a clear idea of what will show up on their ballot come November.

Lawmakers proposed six amendments to the state constitution earlier this year, ranging from superfluous to outright infringements on citizens’ rights. They concern:

  • Protecting the right to hunt and fish, backed by the NRA
  • Defining the rights of crime victims
  • Limiting Gov. Roy Cooper’s power in filling judicial vacancies, and increasing the role of the legislature in that process
  • Taking away gubernatorial power to appoint members of an ethics board
  • Capping state income tax
  • Requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls

These absurd amendments, some of which are just poorly disguised tactics to suppress Democratic voter turnout, are obviously harmful on their own.

But it gets worse.

On Tuesday, July 24th, Republican lawmakers forced a special session of the General Assembly. House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis (R-Harnett County) requested the session because he was concerned that the three-person committee charged with writing the captions for the amendments was under pressure to write “politicized captions.”

Nevermind that the amendments themselves were clearly politicized.

The Truth About the GOP Amendments

The three-person committee charged with establishing the titles of proposed constitutional amendments consists of Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, a Republican.

And Republican lawmakers feared the committee would undermine the amendments’ passage by writing ballot questions that would show the true nature of the amendments.

So Republicans — with the quick support of House Speaker Tim Moore — held a special session to transfer the authority to write the ballot questions for the proposed amendments from the established committee to themselves.

This seems to be what the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly does best — removing power from other branches of government and re-assigning it to themselves.

North Carolina can hardly be considered a democracy at this point. In the past ten years since their gerrymandered maps helped them build a veto-proof supermajority in the General Assembly, Republicans have become masters at governing in secret, protecting their own interests by consolidating power in the legislative branch, and serving their special interests at the expense of the North Carolinians they are purported to represent.

Underhanded Tactics are Typical for North Carolina Republicans

But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen North Carolina General Assembly Republicans use underhanded tactics to get their way.

Back in June of this year, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed a bill (SB 711) that virtually eliminating the rights of families to sue factory farms for nuisance. These industrial farms cause overwhelming odors, health impacts and diminished property values for those living near them, and recent victories by neighbors in court have left factory farms and their corporate overlords feeling threatened — so they ran to the legislature for help.

General Assembly Republicans cast this bill in a falsely positive light. To help it get passed, proponents of SB 711 said it was intended to support and cultivate the state’s agricultural industry. In reality, it was another instance of the General Assembly pandering to Big Ag at the expense of some of North Carolina’s most vulnerable communities whose health and property rights were at risk.

Thanks to their deception, combined with an intentionally rushed passage of the bill, SB 711 became law in North Carolina. Governor Cooper vetoed it, but the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly easily overrode his veto.

There’s No Democracy in North Carolina

These outrageous, newly proposed constitutional amendments are terrible. But to further manipulate the process by refusing to provide an opportunity for the public to familiarize themselves with the language prior to arriving at the polls in November is an unacceptable breach of our democratic principles.

Given the lack of transparency, the egregiousness of this power grab, and the fact that Republicans in the General Assembly have clearly demonstrated their contempt for the democratic process, voters should nix all six of these amendments.

Voting against every single one of these six amendments in November will hold the North Carolina General Assembly to a higher standard — one that actually adheres to the foundational democratic principles of this country. November is also an opportunity to vote for candidates who value transparency, democracy, and public discourse. It’s time to break the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly and begin to restore North Carolina’s democracy.