#ncga: Let’s do the (constitution amendment) hustle!

After being swatted down by some judges, the honorables are back in town to take another stab at (at least) TWO of the six amendments to the state constitution we are slated to vote on in November. The deadlines for printing ballots are fast approaching.  Here’s the latest:

General Assembly leadership Thursday evening released the language legislators will start from when they gather again Friday to rework proposed constitutional amendments in an effort to keep these proposals on the November ballot.

A three-judge panel deemed their initial language too misleading to go before voters, potentially keeping two amendments that would shift appointment powers from the governor to the legislature from being on the ballot at all.

The Republican majority decided Thursday to come back into session to address the court’s concerns, setting up the third General Assembly session of the year to deal with these amendments.[….]

GOP leaders also made at least one substantive change to what the proposed amendments would actually do, based on draft language released Thursday after input from both House and Senate leadership.

No longer would an amendment reworking the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement also assert legislative authority to appoint the memberships of hundreds of other state boards now appointed by the governor.

Instead the bill would just lay out the new Board of Elections, which would be made up of half appointees from the majority party in the General Assembly, half from the minority party. The governor would still have a nominal role in these appointments if voters approve, but the power would shift to legislative leaders from the majority and minority parties.

On election day voters would be asked to vote for or against this language (click for full bill):

“Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement to administer ethics and elections law.”

This language is very similar to the first part of the original, the part dealing with the board. In its order, the three-judge panel said similar language was acceptable.

The other amendment would still change the way judicial vacancies are filled. Instead of allowing the governor to fill them largely as he or she sees fit, the General Assembly would forward at least two nominees to the governor after review by an appointed commission. The governor would have to pick one of those two nominees.

This is functionally the same amendment as before, but the ballot language voters would see changes from:

“Constitutional amendment to implement a nonpartisan merit-based system that relies on professional qualifications instead of political influence when nominating Justices and judges to be selected to fill vacancies that occur between judicial elections.”


“Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the appointment is solely at the will of the Governor to a process in which the people of the State will nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend nominees to the Governor via legislative action that would not be subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees”

Click for full bill.

New in this language: An answer to this complaint from the court: “The (original) amendment makes substantial changes to appointment powers of the governor in filing judicial vacancies, but no mention is made of the governor in the ballot language.”

The new bill also deals with another concern Democrats put forward, and which the three-judge panel endorsed; that the legislation had an end-around the General Assembly could use to avoid vetoes. Republican leadership and their attorneys didn’t agree with this interpretation, but added language to the bill to address the concern.

My first thought:  These guys seem to forget that the tables sometimes turn in politics.

This is not just about neutering Roy Cooper.  It hamstrings the next GOP governor who moves into the big house on Blount Street.  (Especially if there is a Democrat majority on Jones Street.) 

I have been in this game long enough to remember the scenario in Raleigh from 1984-1992:  a Republican  governor and a Democrat legislature. Republicans would have screamed holy hell if the Democrats tried something like this at that time.  

From  1988-1992, we had a GOP governor and lieutenant governor, but a Democrat legislature.  Democrats pretty much neutered the lieutenant governor position and sat Republican Jim Gardner in the corner for four years.

It’s also a bit disingenuous to suggest that shifting judicial appointment power from the governor’s office to the legislature removes politics from the equation.  There’s  not much that happens on Jones or Blount Streets where politics is NOT a key player.

Checks-and-balances and separation of powers are good things.

For what its worth, it appears that Democrats won a lot of concessions in this round of discussion on the proposed amendments.  A super-majority is not always a license to steamroll over your chamber’s minority.

Here’s a novel idea.  Why not a fair set of rules that both sides play by, regardless of WHO has the majority in Raleigh?