Who says bipartisanship is dead?
For starters, not North Carolina’s five surviving former governors.
In an unprecedented gathering, Jim Hunt, Jim Martin, Mike Easley, Beverly Perdue and Pat McCrory stood together at a dais Monday afternoon in Raleigh to announce their united opposition to two of the six proposed constitutional amendments slated to appear on the November ballot in North Carolina
Martin and McCrory are Republicans, Easley, Hunt and Perdue Democrats.
The group issued a prepared statement that reads as follows: “As former Governors of North Carolina, we believe that two of the proposed Constitutional amendments would crippled the separation of powers in our state. These two amendments transfer clear executive authority to the legislature and the ballot language misleads voters as to how damaging these changes would be to our checks and balances in government.’’
Let’s back up a bit to see how we arrived at this moment.
Democrat Roy Cooper narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in the 2016 election. The outcome was disputed for several weeks. Also, in 2016, the GOP kept its supermajorities in the N.C. House and Senate, but lost control of the state Supreme Court.
McCrory called a special session to deal with a disaster relief package. As the doors closed on that session Republican leaders called for another special session, and that’s when it became clear Cooper – and the courts – were in the crosshairs.
In no particular order, here are the proposals that were presented in that session: Removing the governor’s control of the State Board of Elections, overhauling county election boards to prevent Democratic control, make Supreme Court races partisan, reduce the number of state employees appointed by the governor from 1,500 to 300 (that number was raised from 500 to 1,500 when McCrory was governor) and require Senate approval of Cooper’s picks for the Cabinet.
Some of those items passed, some were modified. But the legislature wasn’t done.
As the new legislative session opened this year, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore were asked if they had plans to strip Cooper of any more of his powers.
Berger, laughing, said, “Does he still have any?” Moore chipped in with “If you have any suggestions, let us know.”
The path from those statements to the sight of former governors taking a bipartisan stand was direct.
Two of the six proposed constitutional amendments that may be before voters would restructure the balance of power in North Carolina’s government. One would move the ability to fill vacant judgeships away from the governor to the legislature. The other would overturn 100 years of established practice giving the governor appointment powers over the state elections and ethics board and hand it to the legislature. It would also give the legislature control of duties and appointments to any commission or board it creates.
Regarding the first amendment, there are also serious issues with the way the question on the ballot is worded, saying voting for it would switch to “professional qualifications instead of political influence when nominating justices and judges.” However, there’s no guarantee at all politicians wouldn’t simply pack the court with their pals.
The former governors lit into the proposals in fine fashion. Martin said, “This is not about partisan politics. It’s about power politics. And it must be stopped.
“It may seem brilliant – I would say deviously brilliant – that they now propose to put these amendments to the constitution that would give them absolute power over both the executive and judicial branches. … I’m going to say to you personally, that it is embarrassing to me after a career devoted to building a healthier more competitive two-party system in our state, that it is a legislature controlled by my Republican party that has hatched this scheme.’’
McCrory was just as blunt, saying, “My advice to legislators…if any of you want to take on the responsibilities of the governor, then have the courage to run for governor, and win. Earn it. Do not hijack these duties through two deceitful and misleading amendments that attempt to fool our great citizens.”.
These amendments would weaken the office of governor in North Carolina, already one of the weakest in the nation, very nearly to pointlessness. We’d point out that the office of governor is one that is voted on by all North Carolina voters. These amendments came from the leaders of the House and Senate, voted on by people in their district and people in their party – not people across the state.
It’s inexcusable for them to be making such a power grab.
The interest in more control of the courts is obvious, considering the legislature keeps losing cases in court regarding various pieces of legislation, starting with the disastrous black eye to the state called HB2.
That may happen again this week, when a three-judge panel hears legal challenges to get four of the six amendments off the ballots.
The sensible solution would be to drop the push to get the amendments on the ballot.
This legislature would seem to prefer changing the courts, and sending the governor off to mall ribbon-cuttings instead of exercising the constitutional charge of leading the state.