Opinion

Break the GOP stranglehold on the legislature — and North Carolina

N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, left, and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore
N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, left, and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore ehyman@newsobserver.com

When Republican legislative leaders decided in May how they wanted to spend your tax dollars in 2018-’19, that was it. Lights out, taxpayers. There’s nothing for you to see here. You’ve heard of dark money? This was a dark budget. Republican leaders assembled a $24 billion spending plan in secret, rolled it out and said there would be no amending it.

That was the first time in modern legislative history that amendments to the budget were not permitted.

Even the GOP leadership’s frequent allies objected. “That this step away from the traditional process has made some people angry is justified,” Donald Bryson, president of the Civitas Institute, wrote in The News & Observer. “Republican leaders at the General Assembly have forgotten two crucial political maxims: sound policy makes good politics, and sound policy comes from good debate.”

Why would Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore employ such a Vladimir Putin-like tactic? Because they’ve been in power too long. Because they think they have the corner on good ideas. And especially because they have the votes.

Republicans have a 75-45 advantage in the House and a 35-15 majority in the Senate. That’s enough to override a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

That needs to change. For that reason, The N&O endorses Democratic legislative candidates in the Triangle area in the Nov. 6 election. Democrats need to win six more Senate seats and four more House seats fall to break the GOP supermajorities in those chambers. For the good of North Carolina, that must happen.

There are worthy Republicans running in the Triangle. Sen. Tamara Barringer of Cary has been a collaborative leader on issues related to foster care, adoption and social services. Former Rep. Marilyn Avila, who was defeated two years ago and is seeking her former northwestern Wake seat, was a respected lawmaker and an advocate for good government. Sen. John Alexander of Raleigh, one of the first Republican lawmakers to call for repealing the HB2 bathroom law, has made Falls Lake water quality and transit issues a focus of his time in the Senate.

We believe in two vibrant political parties and we’d like to endorse some of these Republicans. But this year, we cannot. We think it’s more important that voters elect enough Democrats so that some of Gov. Cooper’s vetoes can stand. That would force the Republicans to work with Democrats in passing legislation that has broad support. Republicans would have to work harder to pass legislation — but the laws would be better.

Top legislators are able to command enough discipline among fellow Republicans that even GOP former Gov. Pat McCrory couldn’t often slow down the legislature, The N&O’s Will Doran reported. McCrory vetoed six bills as governor, and the legislature overrode four of them.

Republicans rode a wave of voter discontent in 2010, captured both chambers and pledged to replace the system built by the Democratic power brokers who’d run the state for decades. After eight years, it’s clear Republican leaders have replicated — and burnished — the system they pledged to destroy. They’re obsessed with accumulating power.

That’s why they’re pitching two constitutional amendments that would take powers from the governor and give them to the legislature. All five living former governors have opposed the two amendments, including Republicans Jim Martin and Pat McCrory. Martin has said “it’s embarrassing to me” that the GOP crafted the amendments.

These Republicans might have entered office in 2011 with good intentions but they’ve become enamored with themselves and with power. For the good of North Carolina, they need to be checked.

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