North Carolina made history again Monday, the not-so-bad kind.
If you were in earshot of Raleigh Monday, you might have heard: The state’s five living former governors—two Republicans, three Democrats: Jim Martin, Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, Bev Perdue and, strangest of all, Pat McCrory—gathered to denounce a pair of blatant legislative power grabs masquerading as constitutional amendments.
The legislature, in its depressingly partisan march to the ballot box, has finally evoked a moment of bipartisanship from our former governors.
It was a remarkable scene, one appropriately assembled to combat remarkable affronts from the General Assembly. I can’t imagine these five sharing lunch, much less a brawl with the state legislature over two constitutional amendments that both deserve a swift defeat.
Yet here they were, tag-teaming to sling darts at constitutional amendments Martin called “devious and mischievous.” One would all but seize the governor’s power to appoint judicial vacancies; the second, deceptively touting the state’s commitment to a “bipartisan” elections board, grifts hundreds of gubernatorial appointments along the way.
We might expect this of Martin, Hunt, Easley and Perdue—moderate leaders more alike than they were different. But such benevolence from one so befuddling and bemusing as McCrory is the stunner.
Perhaps there’s a patina of history about the likes of Martin, Hunt, Easley and Perdue, particularly Martin and Hunt, who boast some measure of respect from both parties.
And while Easley and Perdue struggled in their days with spiraling campaign investigations and a cratering economy that makes mincemeat of political ambitions, both governed as moderates in a time when such a thing was possible.
But time has yet to obscure McCrory’s blemishes, and may never. A compromising conservative who, more often than not, embraced the uncompromising, far-right policies of his ilk in the legislature, McCrory could not expect the state to look back with dispassion on a term so fraught with controversy.
The ex-governor might have privately labored over his legacy-crushing support of the anti-LGBTQ attacks of HB2. Yet you’re not likely to find more instances in which the former governor unstoppered his pen so quickly as he did in 2016, when his party crafted a 24-hour bill so aggressively ignorant that it could fill a textbook on phobias.
And, in the waning days of his governorship, the GOP businessman—who’d once taken the General Assembly to court, and won, over legislative attempts to traipse on the executive branch’s powers—signed a law that did just that, severely limiting the appointment powers of his successor, current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Read that twice, if you’d like.
McCrory did that, and yet here he was Monday, standing in the old State Capitol, uncorking some of the more stinging shots at his erstwhile Republican colleagues in the state legislature, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger.
“If any of you want to take on the responsibilities of the governor, then have the courage to run for governor and win,” McCrory spat. “Earn it, don’t hijack our constitution.”
Was this the real McCrory? Was this, finally, the bipartisan, business-class bulldozer we’d been promised during his initial run for Governor in 2008? Or was it merely theater from a politician who’d earned a reputation for mealy-mouthed acquiescence, a man who, even today, would prefer to blame the media, the partisans, anybody but himself, for the travails of his tenure? Who knows? Who cares?
On this day, McCrory—rubbing shoulders with figures decidedly more credible than he—was blindingly right. This year’s constitutional amendments reek of partisan hypocrisy and manipulation. And while our former governors focused on just two Monday, both of which have been challenged by Cooper in court, there’s ample room to stew over the remaining four.
One amendment, a romance novel for fiscal conservatives, promises an income tax cut but does no such thing, instead speeding an impractical cap on income tax levels that may severely diminish the state’s ability to fund public schools. Although it did not come up Monday, one can only imagine how Hunt, North Carolina’s so-called “education governor,” feels about the notion.
Another amendment would act as the vehicle for Republicans’ long-running obsession with voter ID. Never mind debates over whether or not its architects are racist, the amendment’s impacts would be unflinchingly prejudiced, disproportionately belaboring the voting process for North Carolinians of color and other groups who tend to vote Democratic.
And the remaining two—unnecessary vote-foraging forays into hunting, fishing and victims’ rights—pose far more questions than answers, questions about how they will be implemented into the law and how they will impact myriad existing rules. The legislature asks North Carolina to trust them with providing the answers following their presumptive passage in November.
Such a notion boggles the mind. If there’s one thing that North Carolinians of all political opinions can agree on, trust is in bitterly short supply for this General Assembly. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me four hundred times, someone fetch a grand jury.
These amendments are hardly settled. Court cases, including Cooper’s challenge, will play a major role in how they impact our fall ballot, and perhaps long after, as former Gov. Easley predicted Monday.
“It’s remarkable how poorly these amendments have been drafted,” Easley told reporters. “It would take years upon years for the courts to dissect them and tell the public what they mean.”
Perhaps, but North Carolina voters could dissect them within months too. And then, if these five ex-governors succeed, we can resign these noxious amendments to history, exactly where they belong.