It usually takes a fancy event or a funeral for all five of North Carolina’s living former governors to convene.
On Monday, they congregated at the old Capitol in downtown Raleigh to warn voters about a pair of proposed constitutional amendments that would weaken the governor’s office and shift power to the legislature. The proposals are two of six amendments scheduled for the ballot this fall.
One of them would limit the governor’s authority to fill judicial vacancies. The other would grant the legislature — not the governor — the ability to set up a new state elections board and make appointments to state boards and commissions that have historically been made by the governor.
Reporters from across the state huddled behind antique desks in the former House chambers as former governors Pat McCrory, Bev Perdue, Mike Easley, Jim Hunt and Jim Martin stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind a podium. Republicans Martin and McCrory offered some of the sharpest criticisms of the amendments’ Republican authors.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Martin called the gathering “unprecedented” and referred to the amendments as “a scheme” that threatens the balance of political power, adding “it’s embarrassing to me” that the GOP crafted them.
“It’s not about partisan politics, it’s about power politics,” Martin said. “And it must be stopped.”
Legislators who want the governor’s powers should have “the courage” to run for governor, McCrory said, adding: ”Earn it. Don’t hijack our constitution.”
Republican legislative leaders, who put the amendments on the ballot, issued a statement disputing the way the governors cast their intentions.
“We respectfully disagree with these governors that the people deserve no input on the filling of judicial vacancies, and that our state’s elections and ethics board should be a partisan controlled body despite its key role in our democratic process,” House Speaker Tim Moore and Phil Berger, the Senate leader, said in a statement emailed to the media.
“While it’s not surprising former governors oppose checks and balances on the unilateral authority of their office, we are confident the people will support a more accountable approach to filling judicial vacancies and approve a bipartisan balance on critical boards like the state’s ethics and elections commission over a system of purely political control,” they said.
Hunt argued the amendments don’t enhance but cripple the state’s system of checks and balances. The amendments are about “a few politicians in the legislature (who) want to increase their power at the expense of the people of North Carolina,” he said.
The governors plan to raise awareness about the amendments, but it’s unclear how. Asked if they planned to raise money to pay for advertisements, Martin said they planned to talk about it in a private meeting after Monday’s press conference.
“If you’re not here in the bubble called Raleigh, and if you don’t think 24/7 about politics and about the legislature and about what is happening ... then you sometimes lose track (of what is happening),” Perdue said. “I forced myself to pay attention when I heard constitutional amendments, but I’m not sure 9.5 million people in this state are going to pause and pay attention.”
Martin and McCrory warned that the changes could ultimately come back to haunt Republicans if they lose power and Democrats gain control of the General Assembly.
“The pendulum can always swing back the other way,” Martin said.
McCrory said his goal is to change the minds of some Republican legislators before the election.
“They may have voted to put it on the ballot. But now they have a second decision to make: Would they recommend voting for it?” McCrory said. “They still have an out they can take.”
‘If you don’t know, vote no’
Contrary to Berger and Moore’s statement, Easley argued that it is, in fact, unusual for all of the former governors to agree. When pressed about specific legislation, the governors sometimes “hedge.”
“Never have five of us gotten together and stuck it to you on the same issue,” he said.
For his part, Easley said the amendments are not only bad for the political health of the state but are misleading to voters. Republican legislators thwarted an effort to write captions for them.
“You have the right to know what the amendment is (going to do),” said Easley, a Democrat. “If you don’t know, vote no.”
Insider reporter Lauren Horsch contributed to this report.