RALEIGH – Members of the N.C. House of Representatives were back on Jones Street Friday for the second special session of 2018. During the relatively brief voting session, House Bill 4 was offered to clarify the effects of a a ballot referendum that would amend the state constitution to establish an eight member Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to “administer ethics and elections law.”
The bill appears to narrow down the effect of the amendment to the board of elections and ethics specifically, whereas the prior version (struck down by the court) included “clarify board appointments.”
The latter is what former governors and supreme court justices took issue with, as it would give the legislature control over all boards and commissions, taking away the governor’s current authority there. It boiled down to a question of who should have such authorities, the executive or the legislative branch, which is certainly a question N.C. voters are capable of deciding for themselves, but it was dramatized by the media and partial commentators.
No matter. The new language narrows the focus to a elections and ethics structure that is surely needed in the partisan time. With eight members, the hypothetical bipartisan board of elections would be split among the political parties, but require a 6/8 vote to approve motions. That means all decisions would have to be bipartisan, and it would eliminate party line votes on contentious issues.
Of course, Gov. Roy Cooper is locked into his ‘Republicans are evil power hungry despots’ narrative, so this was his response to the special session movement:
— Tim Boyum (@TimBoyumTV) August 24, 2018
The bill will now go to the senate, which will consider it on Monday. The House will also be back Monday to address language changes in the other amendment dealing with judicial vacancies, likely meaning a more fiery debate from Democrats.
The text of the new language for the judicial vacancies amendment came out Friday, and it’s a doozy:
[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST
Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State 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 not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.
The court wanted clarification, and they got it. Despite the verbose appearance of the amendment, it spells out exactly what happens should the amendment pass.
Essentially, what happens? The legislature gets to hold the reins when it comes to judicial vacancies, instead of the governor.
Former governors and some retired justices (who were all appointed to fill vacancies by a governor, mind you) will still scream that it is an obliteration of the separation of powers, no doubt. And their perspective will still be a wild over-dramatization of what would transpire should voters pass such an amendment.
It is crucial to not that, at the root of it all, the people of the state are the ones making these decisions, and if the amendments go the Repulicans’ way it is because that is the will of the people.
Also important is the fact that the legislative branch expanding authorities with the sanction of voters is hardly some sort of ‘runaway unaccountable government’ scenario, even if you disagree with it.
To the contrary, the legislative branch is the closest to the people, the most often held to account via elections, and the body vested by the constitution with the most central powers for these very reasons. One could argue that these powers – elections boards, judicial vacancies – become more democratic and responsive for having been removed from the authority of one statewide elected official (governor) and instead assumed by a exponentially larger, more diverse body with more frequent performance reviews (legislature).