Ignoring the law for political power

Ignoring the law for political power

- in Fitzsimon File

Legislative leaders this session came up with an interesting way to handle a pesky state law standing in their way of their plan to seize control of the State Board of Education.

They just ignored it.

The law says that the Governor must send the names of her appointments to the State Board to the General Assembly by the sixtieth legislative day of the session and then “the Senate and House of Representatives shall meet in joint session for consideration of an action upon such appointments.”

Shall meet in joint session. Not much wiggle room there.

The law is based on the provision in the state constitution that says the governor shall appointment 11 members of the board subject to legislative confirmation in a joint session. The other two members of the board are the lieutenant governor and the treasurer.

Perdue sent the names of her appointments to lawmakers in the spring of 2011. She proposed reappointing current State Board Chair Bill Harrison and current board member Jean Woolard of Washington County. She also proposed appointing William Woltz Jr. to replace current board member Tom Speed, who asked to step down.

Legislative leaders seemed ready to go along with the appointments. The chairs of the Senate Education Committee filed the customary resolution calling for the joint session to consider the appointments.

But that was where the process stopped. There was no joint session. There was no discussion of the resolution to authorize one. There was no action at all on Perdue’s appointments in the 2011 session or the session that met from May until July of this year.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger was asked about the state board appointments at a press conference this summer and said “Gov. Perdue is a lame duck. We would prefer to have whoever the new governor is filling long-term appointments on various state boards and commissions.”

Perdue was not a lame duck when she submitted the appointments in 2011 and even if she was, the constitution doesn’t say that just some governors have the right to make the appointments.

And the law could not be clearer. It says the General Assembly SHALL meet in joint session to consider the governor’s appointments. It’s not an option left to the whim of Berger or anyone else. It is not about what he would prefer.

It’s conceivable that lawmakers could tweak the law, though it’s hard to imagine how any changes would meet the constitutional requirements for the state board appointment process.

And changing the statute would draw more attention to the failure of legislative leaders to act. They would rather not talk about it because it is an unprecedented and possibly illegal power grab.

State board members serve eight year terms and the terms are staggered to ensure that all the members are not closely tied to one governor.

But the folks running the General Assembly don’t want to have to put up with state board members who disagree with their agenda to dismantle public schools with vouchers, for profit virtual schools, and unaccountable and unlimited charters.

They briefly considered a constitutional amendment to change the way the state board is appointed but that’s a cumbersome process.

Instead they simply refused to make Perdue’s appointments and saved them for the next governor, counting on their candidate to win and have twice as many appointments as is customary in his first year in office.

It’s an outrageous display of raw partisanship that could have serious ramifications for public education in North Carolina.

Not to mention what it says about legislative leaders’ lack of respect for the law and the constitution they have sworn to uphold.