Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, fresh into his second term, sat down with North State Journal to discuss everything from education and recent court decisions, to the differing dynamic under a new governor and possible political aspirations come 2020.
“It’s obviously different,” said Forest, a Republican, of his relationship with new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper compared to Pat McCrory. “But it doesn’t change what we do on a daily basis. It certainly changes how we react and communicate with the governor’s office and the things the governor does and says obviously there’s going to be more reactionary commentary out there from us. It’s just the way it’s got to be.
“We have a cordial relationship. We talk on occasion. We’ve had breakfast one time,” Forest added. “We agree to communicate on things and we do that; we both pick up the phone and call each other on things and then we just agree to disagree on policy issues for the most part.”
One of disagreements is Cooper’s continued focus on LGBT issues that emanated from the House Bill 2 saga as the governor recently teased coming executive action on protected class status.
“I think the interesting part of that is he ran a campaign on getting rid of H.B. 2 and getting that behind us, getting rid of the black eye of all that, that sort of thing,” said Forest. “And here he comes wanting to drag it all back out of the closet again and start another fight. It’s really kind of interesting that that would be the first big initiative that he wants to pull off.”
Much like H.B. 2, other legislation, from voter ID to redistricting, has been subject to a torrent of court opinions. Forest believes state sovereignty is at risk as the judicial branch increasingly is at the center of legislative issues.
“[Democrats] discovered a long time ago that they couldn’t win legislatively so they had to win in the courts, so they started stacking all their courts,” said Forest. “We used to have one of the most conservative federal district courts in the fourth circuit in Richmond [Va.], and now it’s the most liberal.”
Forest thinks legislative bodies should do more to push back against an “over-activist judiciary in America” on issues like voter ID and redistricting.
“It’s an opinion of the courts, it’s not the law of the land,” asserted Forest. “Any judicial body, whether it’s a local court, a federal district court or the Supreme Court, when they write an opinion it says at the bottom of that ‘this is an opinion of the court,’ it doesn’t say this is the law of the land. So when the legislature does their job, when the Congress does their job, they can look at that opinion and say, ‘Thank you very much for your opinion, we’re going to go create the law.’ That’s really what should be happening in America and we’ve been abdicating our responsibilities to the courts, we’ve been kicking the can down the road and saying ‘let the courts decide.’ That is not what legislatures are hired to do, [to] let the courts decide.”
However, Forest believes the N.C. General Assembly will have another crack at voter ID, and that, despite recent court opinions on redistricting, the current process is the most reasonable.
“It’s done in the most efficacious way,” said Forest about redistricting. “The party that’s in charge gets to be in charge of that process. You have to follow certain rules to be able to do that. … Obviously you try to keep counties together, you try to keep ZIP codes together, and that’s what these maps generally look like. The Democrats were in charge for 140 years and they never said we need a bipartisan, unbiased panel of citizens to draw these — they weren’t saying that then.”