Five former North Carolina governors offered an unusual joint statement. They rejected the General Assembly’s proposal to include a referendum in the November elections that proposes a change to who has the power to fill vacancies in judicial positions and certain state commissions.
On , former Democratic Governors Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, and Beverly Perdue, along with former Republican Governors Jim Martin and Pat McCrory, joined at the old State Capitol building in downtown Raleigh to urge voters to oppose two of the six amendments that will be presented in the November elections. They asserted that these amendments seek to weaken the functions of the governor’s office.
Under the North Carolina Constitution, the judicial branch is established as a branch of state government, along with the legislative branch (the General Assembly) and the executive branch (the governor). The judicial system of North Carolina, called the General Court of Justice, is operated and financed by the state.
It is currently the governor who has the exclusive power to appointthe majority of judicial positions in the state. One of the amendments that voters will find in the November elections seeks to change this.
The amendment proposes that the governor choose between two candidates recommended by a
a nonpartisan judicial merit commission. If the governor does not choose either of the candidates proposed by this special group, then the state legislators would fill the vacancy.
Another one of the amendments seeks to give the legislature the power to establish a new state elections boardand to make appointments to various boards and commissions, which are positions that have been performed by the governor’s office for more than a century.
It is no secret that the General Assembly, currently dominated by Republican legislators, has tried in different ways to block or at best ignore Governor Cooper, who is a Democrat. However, the negative response to these amendments by two Republican former governors makes it clear that there is bipartisan rejection of the state legislators’ excessive desire for power.
Former Republican Governor Jim Martin said the amendments are a scheme that threatens the balance of political power. He added that
it’s embarrassing to [him] that legislators from his party have created them.
The six amendments scheduled for the next elections are full of controversy. Another proposes that people must provide identification in order to vote. They claim it is a way to combat electoral fraud– a problem that is virtually non-existent in the history of North Carolina; however, placing administrative obstacles to voting has been a practice historically used to try to prevent minorities and poor people from voting.
Other amendments seek to lower the cap on income tax from 10 percent to 7 percent, to protect people’s right to hunt and fish, and to expand the rights of crime victims.
Although there is widespread rejection of some of the reforms that the North Carolina General Assembly wants to implement, the truth is that only voting will make a difference. If we remain idle in the face of these events, we will continue to see how our democracy is gradually diluted in order to satisfy the power cravings of a few.