The first day of the special session July 13th will be a busy one in the Senate, according to President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
Berger sat down with me this week to talk about his goals for the redistricting session. The session rules allow lawmakers to take up vetoed bills for potential overrides. The Senate has six bills in its “veto garage,” including measures on medical malpractice, offshore drilling, regulatory reform, and unemployment law changes.
“At this point, our plan would be to consider an override on all of them,” Berger said. “We’d like to go ahead and get that taken care of on the 13th, if possible.”
Berger’s Senate caucus, with a 31-19 advantage, can override a veto without Democratic support.
But what about the bills Perdue said were unconstitutional, like regulatory reform? Is there any point in overriding a veto to enact a law that’s just going to wind up in court?
“I’d like to see what she’s talking about there, because I don’t think I’ve seen anything from the attorney general’s office that indicates a constitutional issue” with the Regulatory Reform bill, Berger said.
“It’s one thing to say there’s a constitutional issue. That’s very easy to do,” he continued. “It’s something else to provide support for it, and I don’t think she’s done that.”
The main focus of the upcoming special session is the redrawing of the state’s electoral maps. Republicans in both chambers can pass their maps with no Democratic support – only a majority vote is required for redistricting, and the governor does not have the power to veto redistricting bills.
Democrats say the Republican maps are heavily gerrymandered, “packing” minority voters into Democratic districts at both state and congressional levels in order to make surrounding areas more friendly to Republican candidates.
The criticism doesn’t surprise Berger. “I’d be astonished if Democrats weren’t complaining about maps they didn’t draw,” he said. “So you have to kind of take that with a grain of salt.”
“They are fair maps, they are legal maps, and it’s our belief they are maps that will withstand whatever scrutiny is provided by those entities that are required to review the maps,” he said.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” he added. “Obviously we’re going to listen to the input” from the public hearings conducted recently. “If someone can point out legal reasons for changes in the maps, I’m sure we’ll consider that. But it’s our belief that the maps do meet the legal requirements.”
One of the redrawn congressional districts, the 13th, has already drawn interest among Republican contenders, including Berger’s own son, Rockingham DA Phil Berger, Jr.
The elder Berger said he hadn’t expected his son to run for that seat at this time, but he’s not surprised, either. “He has from his earliest days had an interest in politics. I think he’s got a talent for it,” Berger said, adding, “I’m not exactly an unbiased observer.”
The news prompted an outcry among Democrats, who are accusing the Senate leader of having tailored the new 13th district for his son.
“I have not been involved in any of the specific decisions that were made in terms of the makeup of the districts,” Berger responded. “Folks are gonna say what they’re gonna say. You can talk to [Redistricting chairman] Senator Rucho and ask him how much involvement I’ve had.”
Later this summer or early this fall (“I’d like to see it as soon as possible,” Berger said), lawmakers will return to Raleigh for a second special session, this one focused on constitutional amendments.
Berger doesn’t want to present voters with a “California-style ballot” with “page after page” of amendments in 2012, because he thinks voters won’t give them due consideration.
“I would say probably 2 or 3 is a number that seems to me to be about right for the fall ballot,” he said.
Which proposals are the front-runners?
“It’ll take three-fifths [vote] in both houses, and everything that can garner three-fifths is certainly eligible,” Berger said, adding that amendments on eminent domain, term limits, and same-sex marriage have had the most discussion so far.
But he said lawmakers could also consider brand-new amendments. “It’s my understanding under the rules, it would not have to already have been introduced – it’s something that could be introduced in the constitutional issues session, so there may be any number of others.”
You can watch the full interview at right. Sorry about the audio - I shot this on a vidcam. You may need to unplug your headphones to hear both audio channels.