One of the issues upon which I ran my recent campaign for NC Senate, was the need to pass a Constitutional Amendment to impose a 10-day limit of the General Assembly to override vetoes, that any veto not overridden in that time stands.
For readers outside of North Carolina, let me fully explain why this is necessary. To do that, I first need to give you some history.
Rewind to 1996. North Carolina became the last state in the country to give the Governor the power of the veto. This was done by Constitutional Amendment and passed overwhelmingly by the citizens of this state. The power of the veto stipulated that the Governor has ten days to veto legislation, or the legislation stands.
I submit an equivalent limit on the Legislative branch is required. Our NC Constitution calls for three co-equal branches of government. The ongoing budget impasse in North Carolina demonstrates that we no longer have that.
It’s popular, among politicians who want to score political points to bring up the disparity in teacher pay raises between the Governor’s budget, and the NC-GOP budget. Retaining and attracting the best teachers is very important, and even the Governor’s proposal does not raise teacher salaries in NC to the national average. Lost in all the political grandstanding are the others who are hurt by this lack of a budget, including independent contractors that work for the State, mostly in social-service agencies, providing services many of our vulnerable need. They are employed by companies like Accenture to provide data processing services. These people are being laid off as the money to pay them is not there, causing those in need of services to wait longer for those services, as well as the financial hardship of those workers.
Students requiring ESL programs that are not being funded as needed. Needed improvements to roads and infrastructure is being delayed and cancelled. The list goes on.
Now, we need to go back to the beginning of this impasse. The GOP lost their Supermajority in both Chambers in North Carolina with the election of 2018, so they no longer can close ranks and override any and every veto. Effectively, prior to this, our Governor had no veto power.
In 2019, with a newly-seated General Assembly in which both Chambers are controlled by the GOP, though not at Supermajority levels, we began what is known as “the long session.” This is the bi-annual session in which the budget is the main focus. And the Legislature passed a budget that Governor Cooper vetoed, primarily over the issue of teacher pay and lack of Medicaid expansion. It’s worth noting that 62 percent of all rural hospital and clinic closings are in the thirteen states that lack expanded Medicaid as afforded by the ACA.
Then, on 9/11 – the anniversary of the day heroes ran into burning buildings to defend our democracy, the NC-GOP besmirched our democracy, and not for the first time, either. House Speaker Moore had apparently led Minority Leader Darren Jackson (my state Rep, incidentally) to believe there would be no votes taken that day, that they should all go out and pay respects at the various memorials….which most Democrats did. The Republicans, however, had other ideas.
With most of the Democratic delegation absent, but with enough members to make a quorum (61 is required) the Republicans proceeded to override the Governor’s veto. It needs three-fifths of members present to override a veto, and with quorum established (70 members were present) – most of them Republicans, Speaker Moore chose to move ahead with an override vote, which passed 55-15. While this IS according to the letter of the law, it certainly violates the spirit and intent of the law, and the NC-GOP specialize in doing just that.
This of course led to the famous ”I WILL NOT YIELD MR SPEAKER” line from Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) – and it also sent the matter to the NC Senate. Now, the Senate rules are different. 24 hours of advance notice are required before any votes can be taken – so a dirty trick such as was executed by Speaker Moore was not possible. And with 21 Senators out of 50, we had enough to block an override – so long as our Senators remained #21Strong – which they did.
And Sen. Majority Leader Phil Berger kept putting the vote on the agenda…and then not calling the vote when he saw that 21 Democrats were in the room. He even refused to call a vote when all 50 Senators were present, which Sen. Jeff Jackson was quick to point out – that the fair vote is the one with all Members present…and that they wanted an unfair vote…when Democrats were absent. This was even confirmed by Sen. Tillman (R-Randolph/Guilford) when he responded to Sen. Jackson, saying they would vote when the time was right….and added that he hoped Sen. Jackson would be absent.
Now, when you will only vote when you know you will get the outcome you want…why bother voting at all? And that is certainly not democracy. It’s worth noting that Sen. Tillman is a former Social Studies teacher! This is one way in which the NC-GOP demonstrates a complete and total contempt for democracy. It is not the first or only such demonstration, but certainly the most obvious and egregious.
The “long session” ended without a budget, and a Special Session was called with the intent of dealing with the budget. Once again, 21 Democrats showed up, and the vote was not taken, thus no business was conducted and the State wasted a lot of money for the GOP to attempt another dirty trick.
As we enter the “short session” the budget will again be front and center, and the impasse is now in its eighth month. Additionally, many other items of importance, normally dealt with in the short session…will be cleared out to deal with the budget.
Enough is enough. I ran my campaign on, among other things, placing a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot to prevent this from ever occurring again. I chose to pitch this in that way, because the veto was originally granted by Constitutional Amendment and I believe the citizens should have the say in this matter as well.
The way this would work is to pass a Resolution through the House and Senate to place the question on the ballot in November. Which does nothing directly to address the current impasse (but it would place pressure on the NC-GOP to come to the table to negotiate in good faith) but it would prevent such impasses in the future, by forcing the majority Party, whichever Party that may be to come to the table to negotiate in good faith
As it stands now, the Legislative Branch has no time limit on overriding Gubernatorial vetoes, thus making this long impasse possible (remember that the Governor has ten days to veto legislation.) Additionally, it is worth noting that the NC Constitution clearly calls for three co-equal branches of government – and, when one branch can hijack the entire process, as the Legislative Branch, controlled by the GOP has done…that is no longer a co-equal branch of government.
It is time to restore that Constitutionally-required balance. And in terms of North Carolina being a democracy, it is time we lived up to our own State Motto “Esse Quam Videri” – which is Latin for “To be, rather than to seem.”
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