Midnight session may not mean much to voters
Posted January 5, 2012
Updated January 6, 2012
The public didn't know, the press didn't know – not even many lawmakers knew - that there would be a special veto override session early this morning to ban the state's biggest teachers' group from collecting dues from member's paychecks.
Republican leaders say they followed established legislative rules. But Democrats were outraged by the maneuver. And it didn't take long for some, like Governor Bev Perdue, to work it into a political message.
"What happened last night is, Republican lawmakers came into the legislature at about 1 o'clock in the morning while our children were sleeping, and took revenge on teachers who were standing up for our children's future. And that's just shameful for North Carolina,” Perdue said today.
Actually, the law takes aim at the North Carolina Association of Educators - a teachers' organization that got involved in the political wrangling over budget cuts to schools last year. Senate Bill 727's ban on automatic dues deductions from teachers' paychecks is expected to cost NCAE some of its funding stream.
Senate Republicans called the law a blow to unions. But NCAE isn’t a traditional union, having no collective bargaining power. And the law doesn’t apply to an even bigger quasi-union, the State Employees Association, which didn’t get involved in the political firefight over spending.
In a private meeting inadvertently broadcast to the press room last June, House Speaker Thom Tillis told fellow Republicans the bill was prompted by NCAE’s political ads against Democrats who sided with Republicans to override Perdue’s budget veto.
Tillis called the bill “a little taste of what's to come.”
Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), a law professor, says that's unconstitutional on several fronts.
“The government just doesn't have the right under the Constitution to go teach a citizen a lesson, whatever that means,” Glazier said.
The override process could also be unconstitutional. Republican lawmakers didn't follow the constitutional procedure to call themselves into session, opting instead for a legislative shortcut that could be accomplished with the GOP votes on hand. They also didn't give the public advance notice about the post-midnight session. Little political fallout expected from overnight vote
It's certainly not the first time public meeting laws have been broken - or if not broken, at least not observed. Republicans are quick to point out that the Democrats held plenty of unannounced late-night votes over the past few decades. But when the GOP took control of the legislature last year, leaders promised more openness and transparency than their predecessors.
State GOP spokesman Rob Lockwood downplayed that pledge today, saying that what voters really want is the ability to get things done.
“I think what people were looking at was inefficiency versus efficiency,” Lockwood said.
“The people really don't care about how it was done. The bottom line is, we did something we believe in, and the Democrats disagree,” said Lockwood. “The bottom line is the issue and the result at the end of the day. And that's what the people care about.”
State Democratic Party chairman David Parker isn't sure voters will care much about the process question, either, since it happened so fast that no one knew what was going on.
“It was like a rigged horse race that's already been run,” Parker said. “Nobody cares about it after the horses have finished crossing the line. And that's what the Republican strategy is.”
Peace University Political Science Chair David McLennan says the midnight session might energize Democratic fundraising and antagonize Democratic lawmakers, but he doubts it’ll be as much of a factor in November as the new GOP-drawn voting maps.
“The reality is, in legislative races in particular, I don't think it's going to have much impact,” said McLennan. “The districts are going to lean Republican.”
The midnight session is already showing up in fundraising appeals. Democratic lawmakers highlighted the override in a letter to donors this afternoon, asking for money to help pay for their legal fight against the new Republican voting maps.