It should not work this way. State constitutions simply should not be fundamentally rewritten during a poorly noticed, hastily arranged, kangaroo legislative session in which new amendment language is unveiled and approved in a span of a few hours (or a day or two) – especially when the session takes place just days before the public is scheduled to start absentee voting. This is the kind of action one would expect from architects of a military coup in a Third World country.
Unfortunately, unless some courageous judges step back up to the plate in the coming days, the thoroughly modern, First World state of North Carolina is on the verge of committing just such an absurd and outrageous act.
As you’re probably aware by now, North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders announced yesterday afternoon that they would convene today in what seems like the umpteenth special session of the General Assembly in recent years. Their plan is to rewrite the legislation that would place two power-grabbing constitutional amendments on the November ballot. This latest move comes in the aftermath of a ruling by a special three-judge panel earlier this week that the two amendments are so blatantly dishonest that they must not be allowed to appear on the ballot.
In a sane world, the judges’ ruling should have ended this process for 2018. By any sensible concept of open debate, democratic governance and minimally fair lawmaking process, North Carolina already crossed a line this past June when General Assembly leaders pushed through six amendments in the final hectic week of the 2018 session with little-to-no genuine debate or public input.
To get an idea of just how hypocritical and Machiavellian the current Republican legislative leadership is, however, consider the following:
Just a couple of weeks ago, these same leaders convened a special session to pass a new law that forbids a candidate for office from switching their party registration less than 90 days prior to registering to run. The impetus for this move, of course, was that a one-time Democrat named Chris Anglin had switched his party affiliation to Republican a few weeks before filing this summer to run for the state Supreme Court in the November election.
Anglin’s move meant that two Republicans would be running for the seat against a single Democrat (the reverse of what Republican lawmakers had expected to happen). For now, a judge has invalidated the General Assembly’s new deadline with respect to Anglin and another candidate, but the law remains in effect going forward and, ultimately, what’s really relevant here is the hypocrisy of the law change.
At the special session, the GOP legislators voiced outrage that such a supposedly treacherous act (i.e. a last minute party switch) could take place and thereby deprive voters of their sacred right to complete and accurate information about the candidate’s true affiliation. Now, mind you, Anglin changed his registration five months prior to Election Day. Even if Anglin had waited till the day of the filing deadline to switch parties, voters would still have had multiple months to be apprised of this simple and easily explainable fact.
Now, compare that to the situation today.
Those same legislative leaders who were so appalled at the notion that voters might only have had months to be informed about a single candidate’s party affiliation switch are now, suddenly, prepared to rewrite a pair of massively complex, momentous and unprecedented amendments to the state constitution just days before absentee voting is scheduled to commence in early September.
Even Donald Trump could not engage in such blatant sophistry with a straight face.
The obvious solution to the situation the state now finds itself in is, of course, for these amendments to be removed from the 2018 ballot. Indeed, if they were in possession of even a modicum of honor and integrity, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore would take such a step themselves.
As was noted in a post yesterday on The Progressive Pulse, if the ideas Berger and Moore are championing are so powerful and likely to benefit the state going forward, then there will be plenty of time to advance them in 2019 or 2020. None of the matters dealt with in any of the six proposed amendments are going to go away anytime soon.
If Berger and Moore really believe in the merit of their positions, both men ought to have the courage of their convictions to go out and wage the kind of honest and open campaign that would give these momentous issues the kind of full airing they deserve. They should take their campaigns on the road, debate those with different positions and let the citizens of North Carolina really get a chance to fully grasp and appreciate the nature of the changes they propose.
Unfortunately, by all appearances, that is not going to happen. For now, Berger, Moore and their minions have decided go “all in” with their fine print putsch and the state’s future will likely be in the hands of a small group of judges the state Republican Party executive director has threatened with impeachment.
God help it.