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North Carolina editorial roundup

August 29, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Aug. 28

News & Record of Greensboro on proposed amendments to the state constitution:

The General Assembly really wants to amend the state constitution. Legislators really want to get their words on the ballot, so you can ratify them in November and allow those words to permit lawmakers to take more control of your lives. And that, in simple words, is what all this wrangling about wording in Raleigh has been about this past month.

Catch your breath and get ready for another riff: In June, on the last day of the General Assembly’s short session, lawmakers passed, without input from any delegate who isn’t designated with an “R,” those six amendments they want you to consider, giving legislators control of appointments for the judiciary and for commissions that the governor now has; enacting a photo ID framework for voters; lowering the cap of the state income tax rate; protecting the rights of crime victims and a reinforcement of your right to hunt and fish.

But in late July legislators realized that the three-person commission responsible for writing the language you would see on the ballot was controlled by two elected Democrats. So they did what they typically do: called a special session, changed that law and wrote descriptions themselves. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed that change, forcing another special session to override his veto.

Cooper and two other groups then successfully sued to remove the two amendments that took away the governor’s powers. So, rather than appeal that ruling to the state Supreme Court, the legislature was back Friday and Monday to write new amendments and apparently bypass the court ruling by making substantive changes to that wording, including restoring some control to Cooper. We say “apparently” because there have been three special sessions and two court hearings in less than 60 days. Never mind that all five living former governors and six former chief justices think these amendments are bad ideas. Never mind that state Republican Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse actually suggested any justices who ruled against legislators perhaps should be impeached. That was the tactic in West Virginia, of all role models.

OK, sing this chorus with us: This is ridiculous to the sublime because none of these amendments rises to the level of constitutional protection and are only being used to verify future political power. None should be on your ballot, no matter how they are described, and they form an insultingly bad idea regardless of which party is in charge. They represent a power grab in four cases and bad government in five of them. That hunting and fishing amendment is a tip to the NRA. It has no other purpose.

Mail ballots are legally required to be in the sent by Sept. 7, and this thrust-and-parry has gone right to the hilt against the clock. At some point time will determine outcome over logic and principle.

So — and here is that word again — apparently you will have to make the value judgment to reject them. You will have to take the time to school yourself and your friends about what you actually are reading. These “ballot captions” are badly written in the extreme.

And you should vote against these six amendments and then perhaps vote against some of the people who are trying to manipulate you to pass them. The grab for power here is not in the best interest of anyone in North Carolina, no matter your party.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com

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Aug. 28

The News & Observer of Raleigh on Republicans in the state Legislature:

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 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.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com

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Aug. 29

StarNews of Wilmington on federal judges deciding for a second time the state’s congressional districts are unconstitutional:

“North Carolina Is Ordered to Redraw Its Congressional Map”

“North Carolina Is Ordered to Redraw Its Congressional Map”

You’re not seeing double and it’s not a typo. These are headlines from Jan. 9 and Monday after a special panel of federal judges decided for a second time that the state’s congressional districts are unconstitutional due to excessive partisanship.

It was not clear what impact the ruling might have on the general election. The field for the election is set, with early voting beginning Oct. 17 and Election Day on Nov. 6. In its 321-page opinion, the panel did not rule out requiring the Republican-controlled General Assembly to redraw the map for this election. The decision also raised the possibility of letting the general election serve as a new primary for the congressional races, then holding a special election for the final vote.

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But it’s not just the Republicans. Although computer technology has helped the GOP master the art of the gerrymander, Democrats laid the foundation when they controlled the legislature, making it difficult for them to claim any ethical high ground. And if the Democrats were to win back control of the legislature, we have no doubt that they would return the favor.

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In North Carolina, registered Democrats (2,662,752) outnumber registered Republicans (2,089,771) by half a million people. There are 2,201,582 Tar Heels registered as unaffiliated.

In 2010, seven of the state’s 13 House seats were held by Democrats. Republicans won control of the General Assembly that year and redrew the map. The next election flipped the advantage to the Republicans, giving them a 9-4 edge. A redrawn map in 2016 — the one now at issue — made it a 10 to 3 advantage and only a few of those districts are actually competitive.

The smoking gun is this admission by Rep. David R. Lewis, a state representative from Harnett County, who helped lead the 2016 redistricting:

“I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats,” Lewis told fellow legislators.

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Want to keep our election process out of the courts? We do too. So here’s an idea — draw a map that is so obviously fair and so faithful to the ideal of representative democracy that anyone calling it unconstitutional would get laughed out of court.

Online: http://www.starnewsonline.com

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