Opinion

Legislative Republicans covet power. They must be checked.

Moore and Berger questioned on the balance of power with Gov. Cooper

During a press conference last week, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Phil Berger were asked if they planned any further measures to change the balance of power between the legislature and Gov. Roy Cooper.
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During a press conference last week, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Phil Berger were asked if they planned any further measures to change the balance of power between the legislature and Gov. Roy Cooper.

In one day that reflects the train wreck that is the N.C. legislature:

A three-judge federal panel said North Carolina’s 13 U.S. House districts, drawn by the legislature, were gerrymandered for partisan reasons and need to be re-drawn. Another panel of judges had found an earlier version of the districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

Legislative leaders re-wrote language describing two proposed constitutional amendments after Gov. Roy Cooper sued them and state judges said the language was misleading. Every living former N.C. governor and Supreme Court chief justice, representing both political parties, called on voters to reject the two amendments, which would shift power to the legislature, as originally written. 

The state Court of Appeals cleared the way for Chris Anglin, a state Supreme Court candidate, to be listed as a Republican on the fall ballot. Republican legislators, fearing that Anglin is a Democrat trying to split the GOP vote, had moved to keep his party affiliation off the ballot, changing their own rules in midstream.

These three developments might seem to be unrelated, but actually they are deeply intertwined. Each is indicative of the Republican legislative leadership’s willingness to do anything to hold on to power and even to expand it.

N.C. Republicans were in the legislative wilderness for a long time. When they took control of the legislature in 2011, they were determined to move quickly on their conservative agenda and they did. That was their right, which they earned from the voters.

But as the decade unfolded, legislative leaders grew more and more enamored with their power and moved to preserve and enlarge it. They’ve done this as the expense of good and honest government. The irony of this is that for decades, Republicans complained bitterly — often with justification — about Democrats’ abuse of legislative power.

Yet Republicans have taken the Democrats’ worst practices and doubled down on them. Hurried, late-night votes on the state budget? Yes (this year Republicans didn’t even allow for amendments to the budget). The gut-and-amend practice of stripping out bills and adding unrelated legislation? Yes on that too. Substantive measures slipped anonymously into the state budget? Yep. Pork barrel local projects? Indeed (boy, did Republicans used to complain about that).

All of those practices look quaint compared to the Republican leaders latest scheme. Ravenous for power, they’ve placed six proposed constitutional amendments on November’s ballot. Amending the state Constitution should be a deliberate process. In the last 20 years, the legislature has taken seven constitutional amendments to voters. But these Republican leaders rammed through six in the final weeks of this year’s short session.

The amendments seek to shift power to the legislature. And they seek to to generate high GOP turnout by including measures such as a constitutional right to hunt and fish. Does anyone think there are emerging legal obstacles that would prevent licensed North Carolinians from hunting and fishing? Of course not. But it could get some conservative voters to the polls. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore should be better than this.

These constitutional amendments make a farce of good government. This is what power does to people who let it get the best of them. Legislative Republicans have proven they’re dangerous with veto-proof supermajorities. There’s only one sure way for North Carolinians to put an end to these power-grubbing follies. That’s at the polls this November. These Republicans have lost their way.

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