Chris Weedy’s front lawn is not just a political statement, it’s a distribution center.
She said people from all over the state have come to pluck the red signs from her yard that advise voting against all six constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall.
“We got the first shipment two weeks ago and it was gone in four days,” Weedy said. “That was 1,000 signs.” Another order followed: 4,000 signs and thousands more bumper stickers have been ordered so far.
Weedy recited a list of counties where residents have picked up signs or requested them: Rowan, New Hanover, Wilson, Harnett, and more.
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The amendments range from a voter ID requirement to a tighter cap on income taxes. The Republican-run legislature pushed to get them on the fall ballot, and the major political parties have chosen sides. The state Republican Party is backing all six amendments, while the state Democratic Party is opposing all of them.
In a midterm election year that has no race for U.S. Senate or governor on the ballot — known as a blue moon election because it’s rare — the proposed amendments may turn out to be the common issues that draw attention across the state.
“Since it is the blue moon election with no major race at the top, It looks like it’s filling a void,” David McLennan, political science professor at Meredith College, said in an interview Thursday.
The state’s last blue moon election was 12 years ago.
Constitutional amendments usually go through election cycles with almost no one talking about them. The last one to spark debate was the 2012 proposed amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the state, a controversy that spurred intense campaigns and heavy spending. The amendment passed overwhelmingly, with 61 percent of the vote.
It remains to be seen whether this year’s amendment fights turn into coordinated and well-funded campaigns, McLennan said.
“What we’re seeing now is a lot of grassroots stuff, some pretty low-profile things, except for the lawsuits,” he said. “The question is whether it will go up another level or two in terms of profile.”
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is suing over two amendments. The state NAACP and Clean Air Carolina are suing over four. A three-judge panel will consider their requests to put a temporary freeze on the ballot questions at a hearing Wednesday, Aug. 15.
There’s plenty of talk about the amendments going on outside the courtroom.
All five former living governors are going to hold a news conference Monday to talk about their opposition to two amendments that would reduce governors’ power. One would take away from governors the power to appoint members to hundreds of boards and commissions and transfer that power to the legislature.
Voters look to governors to set the state’s direction on education and the economy, former Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, said in an interview Friday.
“The people elect the governor to do that,” Hunt said. “The governors from both parties feel very, very strongly that it would hurt North Carolina badly if we change that. It would especially make it hard for the governor to approve and provide good jobs for our state.”
State Rep. Cynthia Ball, a Raleigh Democrat, is hosting a town hall meeting on the amendments Tuesday. NC Policy Watch, a project of the left-leaning NC Justice Center, held a forum on the amendments Wednesday. Democratic legislators in Guilford County held a town hall Thursday on the amendments, former General Assembly general counsel Gerry Cohen, said in a text message. Cohen participated in the Guilford and Justice Center events. Amendment forums are scheduled into October.
However, McLennan appeared at a speaking engagement in Charlotte with Jonathan Kappler of the NC FreeEnterprise Foundation, and no one there asked about the amendments until he and Kappler brought them up, McLennan said.
Parties line up
The state Republican Party has endorsed all six amendments.
An amendment to protect hunting and fishing and another passed with strong Democratic support.
So did another amendment to expand crime victims’ rights.
Even so, the state Democratic Party opposes all six. Robert Howard, the party’s spokesman, told Colin Campbell of The NC Insider the party’s position “is that the proposed amendments are harmful, unnecessary, or both. We are opposed not only to the amendments but also Republicans’ efforts to deceive voters on each amendment’s true impacts and the partisan politics driving Republicans’ attempts to undermine our state constitution.”
State GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said in an interview Thursday that Democratic legislators who voted for the amendments will have to explain why they voted for amendments the party opposes.
“They’re going to have to explain to people why they were for the hunting and fishing amendment before they were against it,” Woodhouse said. “Why they were for the victims’ rights amendment before they were against it.”
Organized amendment support has been less visible, but Woodhouse said pro-amendment campaigns may develop as it gets closer to Election Day.
Backers of the victims’ rights amendment ran an active social media campaign and lobbying effort to get the question on the ballot. The National Rifle Association backs the hunting and fishing amendment, and some wildlife groups might push for its passage, Woodhouse said.
North Carolina NRA Institute for Legislative Action state director Chris Kopacki sent a statement of support for the amendment in a July email to The News & Observer, but did not say whether the NRA would campaign to get it passed.
In the meantime, Weedy is using social media to let people know about the red signs and how people can get them. The signs are available from locations in Durham and Orange County.
James Protzman, a Democrat and former Chapel Hill Town Council member who ran for governor in 2013, is paying for them, at a cost of $2.10 each.
He didn’t know how in-demand the signs would be, but is gratified that people are focused on the issues.
Weedy is a clinical social worker who lives in Raleigh with her husband, Jimmy Creech.
Creech is a former Methodist pastor who lost his job at Fairmont United Methodist Church in Raleigh in the 1980s because of his support for gays and lesbians, The News & Observer has reported. He made national news when he was defrocked in 1999 for officiating at a commitment ceremony of two men.
Weedy said she and Creech have a reputation for being the “sign people.” They distributed a “Flush McCrory” sign featuring a toilet that targeted former Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republicans over the bill known as HB2, which dictated transgender people’s access to public bathrooms.
“We’ve built a network of people we know are Democratic-minded,” she said.
Weedy said the amendments are a “power grab by Republicans” and is enthusiastic about fighting it.
“I think people are ready to stand up against it,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is afraid to say, ‘no, this is crazy.’”
The proposed constitutional amendments:
▪ Require voters to present photo ID.
▪ Set a 7 percent ceiling on the state income tax, lowering the cap from 10 percent. The personal income tax rate is now 5.499 percent.
▪ Give legislators a major role in choosing who should fill judicial vacancies, limiting the governor’s power.
▪ Protect hunting and fishing, and make hunting and fishing “a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”
▪ Have the legislature choose eight members to make up the Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement, with nominees coming from each party. Take away the governor’s power to appoint members to nearly 400 boards, and give that power to the legislature.
▪ Add rights in the legal system for victims of felony crimes.