The most telling moment in the General Assembly this week was not Tuesday’s vote to override Governor Beverly Perdue’s veto of the most extreme radical right legislation passed this session, the offensive so-called “Right to Know Act” that forces women to listen to right-wing propaganda before they can access legal abortion services.
It didn’t come when Republicans managed to convince a handful of conservative Democrats Monday to override Perdue’s important veto of anti-environmental legislation or when the Republican majority refused to allow any debate at all before overriding her veto of a bill limiting the rights of patients to recover damages when they are maimed by the negligence of a doctor.
And it wasn’t the news that the latest versions of the House redistricting maps had improved the districts of some of the Democrats who voted with Republicans on the veto overrides.
All that is offensive enough, but the most telling moment came after the Republicans only loss of the week so far, when they failed in their attempt to override Perdue’s veto of the ill-advised and disenfranchising voter ID law that will make it more difficult for thousands of seniors to vote.
For the first time all week, the Democratic members of the House stuck together, making it impossible for Republicans to come up with the 72 votes they needed. House Majority Leader Paul Stam immediately invoked a parliamentary procedure to keep the bill alive for another veto override vote that could happen any time before the General Assembly adjourns its short session next summer.
That understandably upset the Democrats. House Minority Leader Joe Hackney told the House not to allow Stam to keep the veto override alive forever, saying that the voter ID issue had been decided.
Stam responded that “it’s not settled until it’s settled right.”
It’s a startling statement that says as much about the arrogance of Stam and the rest of the Republican leadership as anything else that has happened in this reactionary session.
What Stam meant of course is that it is not settled until he wins, until Republicans get their way, until they cram their radical agenda through the General Assembly whether the rules allow it or not.
Never mind the Governor, never mind the Democratic process, never mind the votes of the House, never mind the people.
Wednesday morning brought the news that this week’s session will adjourn Wednesday afternoon but a new special session will begin Thursday so lawmakers can rush to consider another spate of issues, including a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that is already illegal in North Carolina.
House and Senate leaders have said repeatedly that constitutional amendments would be debated in a session in the late summer or early fall, but now it seems plans have changed and the demagoguery will begin this week.
As troubling as it is, that’s not a surprise. Statements made and schedules set by legislative leaders are as meaningless as the calendars they are printed on.
Votes are called whenever House Speaker Tillis wants to call them. Sessions are held when the legislative leaders think it’s in their best political interests to hold them. Any pretense of notice to Democrats, much less the public is now gone. So is any sense of fairness.
Unless a conscience quickly develops among a few rank and file Republicans, Stam’s arrogance and utter disdain for the people he claims to represent will barrel on, unrestrained.
This is clearly an ideological crusade now, not a legislative session.