Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reshaping North Carolina Via the Ballot Box

With the new General Assembly only two weeks old, a theme seems to be taking shape that could result in North Carolina voters having a large say in reshaping how government operates here in the Old North State.  If successful these changes would enshrine some small government principles into the State Constitution and change how the judges who interpret that Constitution are elected.

Every Legislature has a number of proposed amendments, but few make it to the voters.  Last session the big one was the controversial "Amendment 1" regarding same sex marriage.  Many others however can not muster the three-fifths vote needed in each chamber of the legislature to get on the ballot.  The UNC School of Government has a good piece here on those that did not make it in 2011.

What will be different this time?  The veto proof Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature, that's what.  With 77  Republicans in the House and 33 in the Senate, they have the votes to put anything they want on the ballot.  If they choose to do so, several amendments are currently targeted for the November 2014 General election - making that a particularly big day for the voice of NC voters.  It is hard to see these not passing if the citizens are given a say about them.

Here is what we may have in store.  If they ultimately pass, private property will be protected, term-limits will be in place for leadership of the General Assembly, and North Carolina will protect its status as the least unionized state in the Union by elevating its right-to-work laws.

Eminent Domain - "Private property shall not be taken by eminent domain except for a public use. Just compensation shall be paid and shall be determined by a jury at the request of any party."

Annexation Amendment - "The General Assembly may not authorize any annexation initiated by a city, town, or other government subdivision unless the eligible voters living within the proposed area of annexation, and they alone, are allowed to vote, and the proposed annexation is approved by two‑thirds of those voting. Such election shall be placed on the ballot in accordance with law within the proposed area of annexation for the general election next occurring after the municipality proposes the annexation. This paragraph does not prohibit property owners from requesting annexation if they so desire. No city, town, or other governmental subdivision may exercise any jurisdiction beyond the corporate limits."

Speaker/Pro Tem Term Limits - "No person may serve as Speaker in more than two General Assemblies. The initial convening of a session of the General Assembly after the terms of members commence shall constitute a new General Assembly for the purpose of this Section. Only service as Speaker during any part of an odd‑numbered year constitutes service as Speaker for that General Assembly for the purpose of this Section."

NC Right to Work/Secret Ballot Amendments - "The right to live includes the right to work. The exercise of the right to work must be protected and maintained free from undue restraints and coercion. It is hereby declared to be the public policy of North Carolina that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization or association."

However, regardless of what happens with any of the proposed amendments, it's up to the judiciary to interpret the laws and ultimately the Constitution.  Bills have been already been introduced in both houses of the Legislature which would restore partisan elections for our judges.  If passed, that too should push the state in a more conservative direction.

There is a reason bills H65 and S39 are titled "Restore Partisan Judicial Elections".  In the past they used to be that way.  Previous Democratic legislatures made judicial elections non-partisan because too may Republican judges were winning even though Democrats have huge registration advantages in the State.  It seems even when North Carolinians were electing Democrats to make their laws, they wanted more conservative Republicans to help enforce them.  More on that here.

Elections matter.  The new Republican General Assembly may be about to put on a good display as to why.

UPDATE: And the march continues with Senate Bill 82 filed on 2/13.  This bill would eliminate straight ticket voting.  Shockingly, people would be expected to have some idea of who they are voting for in each race.

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