My historic campaign for NC Senate focused on many issues. Among them:
Legalization of cannabis.
Addressing climate change.
Expanding economic opportunity, especially in rural areas.
Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.
Passing a Living Wage with an automatic annual increase indexed to the rate of inflation.
Restoring education funding, and making Lottery proceeds set aside for education funding.
Repealing the law preventing municipalities and Counties from providing broadband access.
Expanding the accessibility of truly affordable housing.
Raising teacher salaries to the national average.
Restoring the Master’s Degree bonus in teacher salary structure.
Restoring textbook funds to school districts.
Fully supporting all worker’s rights to form a union.
Restoring the State-level Earned Income Tax Credit.
Expanding transportation options in North Carolina.
And, yes…full equal civil rights for LGBTQ+ North Carolinians.
Another 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. At that time, a Constitutional Amendment passed overwhelmingly by the citizens of this state. However, this Amendment also stipulated that the Governor has ten days to veto legislation.
North Carolina currently does not impose an equivalent limit on the Legislative branch. 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. Even the Governor’s proposal does not raise teacher salaries in NC to the national average.
All the political grandstanding causes many to lose sight of the others who are hurt this lack of a budget. This includes, among others:
Independent contractors that work for the State, mostly in social-service agencies, providing services many of our vulnerable communities in need. Data processing professionals, usually working for firms like Accenture, process applications. These people are being laid off. This causes those in need of services to wait longer for those services, not to mention the financial hardship of those workers.
ESL programs are not being funded as needed. Needed improvements to roads and infrastructure are being delayed and cancelled. The list goes on. The citizens of North Carolina deserve better.
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, since 2017, our Governor had no veto power.
In the elections of 2018 the balance of power changed. A newly-elected General Assembly, began what is known as “the long session,” which focuses primarily on the budget.
The Legislature passed a budget. Governor Cooper vetoed it. primarily over the issue of teacher pay raises and lack of Medicaid expansion. 62 percent of all rural hospital and clinic closings are in the thirteen states that lack expanded Medicaid.
Then, on 9/11 – the anniversary of the day heroes ran into burning buildings to defend our democracy, the NC-GOP besmirched our democracy. But this wasn’t the first time. House Speaker Tim Moore told Minority Leader Darren Jackson (my state Rep, incidentally) there would be no votes taken that day. And 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, the Republicans proceeded to override the Governor’s veto. Quorum requires over 50 percent of members present. Three-fifths of members present can override a veto. With quorum established (70 members were present) – most of them Republicans, Speaker Moore moved an override vote. The vote passed 55-15. While this IS according to the letter of the law, it certainly violates the spirit and intent of the law! Of course, the NC-GOP specialize in doing exactly that. Again, the citizens of North Carolina deserve better.
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. In the Senate votes require 24 hours advance notice. A dirty trick such as was executed by Speaker Moore was not possible. With 21 Senators out of 50, we had enough to block an override – so long as our Senators remained #21Strong.
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. The fair vote, said Jackson, is the one with all Members present. Jackson went on to say that they wanted an unfair vote…one in which Democrats were absent. Sen. Tillman (R-Randolph/Guilford) confirmed this 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? 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. The Senate called a Special Session to address the budget. Once again, 21 Democrats showed up. They did not call the vote. No business was conducted. The State wasted a lot of money for the GOP to attempt another dirty trick. The citizens of North Carolina deserve better.
As we enter the “short session” the budget will again be front and center.
The impasse is now in its eighth month. Additionally, many other items of importance, will not be dealt with. These items are normally addressed in the short session. Now the budget will be front and center instead.
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. Our Governor obtained veto power by way of a Constitutional Amendment. 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. This, of course, does nothing directly to address the current impasse. It would however, 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. It would also put pressure on the NC-GOP to come to the table now and negotiate in good faith on this budget.
As it stands now, the Legislative Branch has no time limit on overriding Gubernatorial vetoes.
This makes the long impasse possible (remember that the Governor has ten days to veto legislation.) The NC Constitution clearly calls for three co-equal branches of government. 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.” Right now, we are not a democracy…nor do we even seem like one!