Editorial: Legislature needs to end governing by whim, decree and ambush
Posted September 14
Updated September 15
CBC Editorial: Friday, Sept. 15, 2017; Editorial # 8212
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
Call it what it is: Governing by whim. Legislating by ambush. Administering by decree.
We’re not describing 18th century England and King George III.
This is the 21st century operation of the North Carolina General Assembly – as practiced by the leaders of the state Senate and House.
Legislative leaders specialize in governing in the dark, driven by blind ideology and an unrelenting appetite for fanciful partisan political vendettas. Given their overwhelming track record, particularly since 2011, it is malfeasance, plain and simple. There’s no end in sight.
Just this week there was more talk of a massive overhaul of the administration of justice in the state. Concocted in secret were new maps for the state’s judicial districts.
Prior to their disclosure, there was no discussion with those responsible for the operation of our courts – not the state’s Supreme Court chief justice, who is a Republican; not the head of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, who works for the chief justice. Not the leaders of the state bar association, not the district attorneys nor clerks of court.
Rep. Justin Burr, bail bondsman-turned legal wizard who conjured up the judicial redistricting scheme, claims it corrects past gerrymandering by the Democrats. The truth is that the last time the districts were changed, back in the late 1980s and early 90s, was because the system blocked many African Americans from opportunities to serve as judges. It was precedent-setting civil rights lawsuits that forced North Carolina to redraw those judicial districts and change the way judges were elected.
Burr’s “surprise” legislation is no isolated case. Consider these other head-scratchers that suddenly emerged out of the General Assembly’s black hole: Legislation that fundamentally changed powers of the governor; The merger of the agencies that oversee elections and ethics; Changes to the authority of the state Board of Education; Massive cuts to the state Department of Justice; Notorious House Bill 2; Creation of private school vouchers; and the 18-month moratorium on wind energy development.
Even some Republicans in the legislature are lamenting the current reign by decree. “We just don’t do what we used to do in terms of using committees, doing things between sessions, doing a lot of the work on gleaning the facts,” said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, in an interview with the Coastal Review. “It’s more about bullying your way through whatever the issue is.” It is difficult, he says, to thoroughly and responsibly examine policy proposals.
Unfortunately the autocratic behavior of legislative leaders is now reflected by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors – who are appointed by the legislature – in its latest effort to tell UNC President Margaret Spellings how to organize her office. Again, all done without any prior consultation with those most impacted.
Again and again, the current legislative leaders preach that government should be operated like a business. But no well run business operates – or survives – the way Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore try to run the state.
Their primary motivations are settling fictitious scores with Democrats like Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein.
Why don’t Berger and Moore make a business case for the changes they want? Why won’t they go about an orderly, business-like process to propose legislation, publicly take input and then make reasonable changes to improve the ideas? The answer is simple – their contorted, shortsighted measures would not hold up under the slightest scrutiny and in the light of day.
The business of government isn’t about imposing ideology and bringing political opponents to their knees. It is about serving the needs of citizens, being transparent with taxpayers and building a state that is prosperous, provides opportunities for all to thrive and offers a high quality of life.
Despite the rose-colored view of the state they conjure, the reality is that North Carolina continues to lag in educating children, workers’ wages, job growth, environmental quality and too many other measures and standards.
They must change and be more deliberative and open. If not, even the most severe gerrymandering won’t blind voters to the malfeasance on display over the last nine years.