August 9, 2018/Press

Editorial Boards Continue to Slam GOP Constitutional Amendments & Efforts to Deceive Voters

Raleigh – Editorial boards from around the state continue to launch scathing critiques of the legislature’s efforts to deceive voters about the true impact of their constitutional amendments. These amendments will take a wrecking ball to our separation of powers, make it harder for North Carolinians to vote, and insert politics into the judiciary, but voters won’t know that because Republicans have resorted to deceiving voters to better the odds that these amendments pass. “Efforts to mislead voters have been unrelenting,” because at the end of the day, “bad ideas introduced without public input always create bad policy.”

Capitol Broadcasting Corporation: Court challenges show legislature’s empty agenda
By the Editorial Board
August 8, 2018

Even if the North Carolina General Assembly ballot descriptions for constitutional amendments are found to be inaccurate and deceptive, there’s no law against it.

That was one defense Martin Warf, lawyer for legislative leaders Sen. Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, offered up in court Tuesday.

The official ballot wording of the half-dozen unnecessary amendments the legislature rushed onto the ballot – as a cynical partisan effort to boost Republican turnout for the fall elections – is at best misleading and at worst in stark contrast to the actual intent.

It’s no accident. Efforts to mislead voters have been unrelenting.

In language that could have come from one of George Orwell’s novels, House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, tried to blame those seeking more clarification for the controversy and latest lawsuits.

“It’s an attempt to once again use the courts to short-circuit the will of the people,” Lewis said last week.

Is the action of a court-declared illegally gerrymandered legislature the “will of the people?” We should heed the caution from former House Republican Majority Leader Paul Stam of Wake County, who once said of Lewis: “David can obfuscate more than anybody I know.”

Contrary to what voters might see on the ballot, these state constitutional amendments seek to: Make it more difficult for some North Carolinians to vote; Take board and commission appointive powers away from the governor and give it to the legislature; Give the legislature, and not the governor, the authority to appoint the judges who decide if the legislature’s laws are legal; Cripple the ability to deal with public needs by limiting the state income tax.

The legislature is hell-bent on hiding the truth. These are nothing more than power-grabs to disrupt the crucial separation of powers mandated in the State Constitution, tipping the shared balance of power heavily in favor of the legislature, threatening the impartiality and fairness of our courts and hobbling the administrative branch.

These legislative leaders think so little of the voters who put them in office that they don’t feel it is necessarily to deal with them truthfully.

Lewis may like his “sue till blue,” catch-phrase to deride legislative critics who have gone to court to challenge the legislature’s deceitful action.

But the empty defense of the legislature’s actions was on full display to anyone in Judge Paul Ridgeway’s courtroom Tuesday. When a defense against misleading ballot descriptions is that there’s no law that says we can’t – there’s no disguising the lack of integrity and dismissive attitude toward North Carolina citizens.

The courts are the correct and proper forum for a fair determination of the legislature’s actions.

We are fortunate, at least for now, to be a nation and state of laws, not dictators, despite the unrelenting efforts of Phil Berger and Tim Moore to change it.

We cannot say it strong or often enough.

Vote against the constitutional amendments!

Read the full editorial online here.

Fayetteville Observer: Amendments draw onslaught of lawsuits
By the Editorial Board
August 8, 2018

It’s not even a tiny surprise that many of the state constitutional amendments headed for the November ballot are facing court challenges. It would be shocking if they didn’t.

The amendments are a perversion of our legislative system, six constitutional changes cooked up by a handful of lawmakers behind closed doors and then passed in the waning hours of the last legislative session. There was virtually no public debate of the amendments, no discussion of the thinking behind them or the reason they are needed. Their wording is deliberately vague and misleading, most likely so voters will shrug and say OK, why not?

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed two of them — the ones that would take away some of his appointment powers and transfer them to the General Assembly. They are part of the Republican-dominated legislature’s ongoing battle to strip away as much of his authority as possible. Lawmakers reconvened for a rare Saturday session to override the veto.

The governor is bringing a legal challenge to the measures that would take away his power to fill judicial vacancies and to make a host of other appointments that are now made by the governor’s office.

But Cooper isn’t alone in court. The NAACP and an environmental nonprofit have also filed suit, targeting the two amendments Cooper vetoed as well as measures calling for voter ID and a 7 percent cap on the state’s income tax rate. The groups argue that the wording of the amendments are vague to point of being deceptive. And they’re right. One, for example, would replace the current State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement and would also “clarify the appointment authority of the Legislative and Judicial Branches.” There’s no hint there that it is actually taking appointment power away from the governor.

Kym Hunter, a Southern Environmental Law Center lawyer who is representing Clean Air Carolina in an amendment suit, characterized it perfectly. It’s like putting an amendment on the ballot promising free ice cream sandwiches to everyone, she said, when lawmakers actually planned to eliminate the Equal Protection Clause of the constitution.

Hunter also suggested the tax cap amendment is equally misleading in its wording because it suggests to voters they will be cutting their taxes if they approve it. In truth, the tax rate is already several percentage points below 7 percent.

Lawmakers made the information deficit even worse by pre-empting the state commission charged with writing explanations of ballot questions, ruling that instead, each question would only be labeled “Constitutional Amendment.”

Another purely partisan power play by Republican lawmakers hit a speed bump in a Wake County court Monday when a judge held up implementation of a hastily passed law that would prevent state Supreme Court Candidate Chris Anglin from appearing on the ballot as a Republican. Anglin, who until recently was registered as a Democrat, switched parties shortly before he filed for the November race. He was able to do that at the last minute because of changes in the law that also eliminated judicial primaries this year. Anglin may have taken advantage of an inadvertent loophole to dilute the vote for incumbent Republican Justice Barbara Jackson. Or perhaps he didn’t, and just wanted, as he has said, to combat changes in the party’s direction. Either way, he is on the ballot legitimately and a law passed after he registered is likely unconstitutional. The full hearing on his challenge will come next week.

All of this court action is disruptive and may cause problems with timely printing of the fall election ballots. But it’s little wonder that the GOP’s blatant political gamesmanship was challenged. It should be. The constitutional amendments are deliberately designed to deceive voters and were conceived in the dark. Every one of them should be rejected — by the courts or by the voters. The people of North Carolina deserve an open, honest discussion of all constitutional amendments, and ballot questions written in ways that fully explain the implications of the amendments.

The best fate for this crop of amendments is a swift trip to the trash.

Read the full editorial here.

News & Record: Let’s lower the curtain on the N.C. General Assembly’s bad show
By the Editorial Board
August 7, 2018 

In courtrooms in Raleigh this week judges are hearing arguments they shouldn’t have to hear. Gov. Roy Cooper, the NAACP, Clean Air Carolina and a couple of judicial candidates — one for the Supreme Court — are arguing for various reasons that some or all of the amendments placed on the ballot this fall by the General Assembly should be removed from the ballot and that all judicial candidates’ party affiliations should be on the ballot.

This is political and judicial theater that is both comedy and tragedy but, more importantly, a show that should not have taken the stage in the first place.

First, this is a really bad script: These six potential amendments to the state’s constitution — two taking appointments from the governor, one requiring voters to produce IDs, one to lower the state’s income tax ceiling, one about rights for crime victims and one to be sure you know hunting and fishing are a right — are not worthy of constitutional status. You will hear and read that dozens of times between now and Nov. 6. They shouldn’t be on the ballot.

The cast: Republicans who dominate the General Assembly, led by Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain), play villainous roles for their tricks and manipulations. Cooper, a Democrat, tries to be a hero, but he is often wounded in battle. Supreme Court candidate Chris Anglin and Wake district court candidate Rebecca Edwards are supporting actors.

Bad acting: There are plenty of ham-handed performances and ugly scenes, such as Republicans introducing these amendments in the last week of the general session, without public debate. Then there was the commission created by statute to write ballot descriptions for these amendments. Legislators rushed back into session to change the law so that they, not that commission, would write those descriptions. When Cooper vetoed that bill, lawmakers returned Saturday to override that veto. That generated the various lawsuits, which argue that those efforts mislead voters with imprecise wording.

Direction: But wait, the amendment language wasn’t sufficient to require a special session, so lawmakers threw in a 2-for-1 deal for ticketholders: They passed a law removing the party designation for judicial candidates who switched parties within 90 days of the filing deadline. This appeared targeted at Anglin, a Democrat-cum-Republican in a three-person field, and Edwards, who switched to Democrat. Lawmakers had directed judicial races to be partisan and held without primary elections.

The reviews: The rushes on this “dramedy” are based on the calendar. Today is the deadline for language on constitutional amendments to be approved and for candidates to drop off ballots, which are to be mailed on Sept. 7. Whatever merit judges give these claims must be decided quickly. Anglin already has been granted a hearing for Monday on whether his rights were violated. His argument appears to have merit.

The outlook: This production can’t be allowed to tour polling places across North Carolina. Bad ideas introduced without public input always create bad policy. Individually targeted legislation is simply unconstitutional. This should be curtains, but maybe there is a future for an adaptation of this production — on the Game Show Network.

Read the full editorial online here.