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Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Shameless is as shameless does

by Tom Sullivan

North Carolina State Legislative Office Building (Photo: W Edward Callis III)

If you think the Trump White House is shameless, you haven't sniffed around the North Carolina state legislature lately. If there's an election-rigging scheme state Republicans haven't tried, they haven't thought of it yet. This week they are back in special session to rewrite the law that governs who writes the ballot header language for constitutional amendments. "What the ... huh?" you ask.

Fearing a "blue wave," Republicans have drafted six, count 'em, six constitutional amendments for the fall ballot. They hope to drive their people to the polls with such vital issues as codifying a right to hunt and fish in the state constitution.

“I would say that this is the largest number of controversial amendments ever to be on the ballot since 1971,” said Gerry Cohen, former Director of Legislative Drafting at the General Assembly.

Republican legislators have called this special session to prevent "an outbreak of democracy," chides the Raleigh News & Observer Editorial Board:

The point of the sudden session will be to take legislative control of writing the ballot language for six constitutional amendments. Under state law, that responsibility belongs to a three-member commission, but legislative leaders are worried that following that law could undermine their aims in proposing the amendments.

The problem for Republicans is that it includes two statewide-elected Democrats, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein. The third member is Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, a Republican.
Guess it's time to rewrite that law.
That makeup gave the jitters to House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican. On Saturday he wrote to House Speaker Tim Moore and asked for the special session to get the writing switched to Republican control. Under state statute, the commission must prepare “an explanation of the amendment, revision, or new Constitution in simple and commonly used language” no later than 75 days before the election. The Nov. 6 election will be 106 days away on Tuesday.
Lewis doesn't want his amendments getting, you know, politicized by allowing the majority-Democrat commission to write descriptions that might clue in the voters to what they actually do. Not to mention that enabling language for five of the six will only be written later, so how they will actually work if passed is unclear. Minor detail.

The amendments themselves are an NCGOP Christmas list. Besides enshrining hunting and fishing as a constitutionally protected right, they also further weaken the powers of the governor to appoint judges and state board members (Gov. Roy Cooper is a Democrat), and to lower the cap on the state income tax. But this maneuver is like the plot of Jack Reacher, in which a sniper kills five random people to mask the fact that the real target was only one of them.

Sure, they want to stick it to the governor and turn out their base. Hunting and fishing? Whatevs. But what they really hope to do is pass voter ID as a constitutional amendment since in passing it as a law Republicans ran afoul of federal courts. The Fourth Circuit court found that the 2013 voting reform package that included a strict voter-ID requirement plus restrictions on early voting and same-day registration was “enacted with racially discriminatory intent.” The U.S. Supreme Court let stand the appeals court decision.

The News & Observer adds:
The hallmark of this Republican-led legislature is that its actions are both heavy handed and ham handed. Legislative leaders are not only shameless about bending the law to partisan purposes, but often incompetent in doing so. Republicans have spent millions of public dollars defending these laws, often unsuccessfully, from challenges to their constitutionality.
The proposed ID amendment doesn't specify what forms of ID would be valid, naturally. That would be left up to the NCGOP to sort out if the amendment passes, assuming Republicans still hold a veto-proof margin in the legislature after November. Then the NAACP and ACLU will take them back to court once again, this time with Republicans hoping to find a friendlier reception in a Trump-modified Supreme Court.

Yes, of course, there's more. Judicial races were nonpartisan contests in North Carolina for years. But after an African-American Democrat, Mike Morgan, won a Republican-held seat on the state Supreme Court in 2016 and gave the majority to Democrats, the NCGOP decided it might need to add party affiliation back to the ballot, as it had already for Court of Appeals races. Well, along comes Chris Anglin:
Republicans and Democrats lit into each other Tuesday night over legislation that will strip the Republican ballot designation from a longtime Democrat who switched parties shortly before running this year for the state Supreme Court.


The Republican majority has tinkered repeatedly with North Carolina's judicial elections in recent years, returning them to partisan affairs and, last year, canceling this year's primaries. That had an apparently unintended consequence, doing away with the longstanding rule that no one could be on the ballot as a Republican, Democrat or member of any other political party unless they'd been registered with the party at least 90 days.

A group run by Republican operatives sent out mailers at one point, asking Democrats to run in statewide judicial races. But in the end, it was Anglin, a Democrat-turned-Republican, who jumped into the state's highest-profile judicial race: the lone Supreme Court seat up for re-election this year.
Hoisted, petards, and all that. So, the NCGOP had hoped to dilute the Democratic vote by recruiting Democrats to run for the Supreme Court. Instead, a Democrat switched parties to dilute votes on the Republican side.

Guess it's time to rewrite that law.

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