GOP Constitutional Amendments: What’s Happening? Letter to Editor 8-7-18

GOP Constitutional Amendments: What’s Happening?

Diane Lemieux

By now, you must have heard about the special session last week in the North Carolina Legislature.  If not, catch up to the news here!  The GOP wrote six constitutional amendments that will be on your ballot when you vote Nov. 6, or in early voting. Now, amending a constitution is a pretty big deal, so these six amendments must be pretty important to be voted on by all North Carolinians! The 1971 North Carolina Constitution has been amended 38 times; the most recent amendment was “Criminal Defendant May Waive Jury Trial” in 2011.

The stated reason for the GOP creating these amendments is to further cement their agenda while they still control the legislature. Many believe there is a second, hidden but related, reason:  to bring conservative voters out to the polls for a midterm election by wording the amendments in such a way that only describes a portion of the intent and to protect GOP candidates from the “Blue Wave” that is electing Democratic candidates all over the country.

North Carolina Democrats are out to break the supermajority in the legislature.  The GOP supermajority holds 35 of 50 Senate seats and 75 of the 120 House seats and easily rode over Democratic opposition to the amendments.

“There’s nothing that’s good or based in good public policy to justify this flurry of proposed constitutional amendments except election-year politics,” Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, told The Hill. “They’re pushing to change our state constitution that fundamentally alters the balance of power of state government going back to the early days of the state of North Carolina.”  The amendments “give more power to the legislative branch to pick our judges, make voting harder, appoint their friends to run key agencies, and give political donors huge tax breaks.” Democracy NC

Last week, the GOP called a special session with less than 24 hours notice, (at a cost to North Carolina taxpayers of approximately $50,000), to make sure that the language is vague enough to confuse the voters. According to law, there was already a bipartisan board responsible for writing the captions to accompany the amendments on the ballots after getting public input. But that wasn’t sufficient for the GOP. They wanted to ensure that the wording met their own criteria, and wrote it behind closed doors, with no input from the Democrats or the public.

The result of the special session, “House Bill 3, allowed the legislature to take control of writing captions for the six constitutional amendments that will appear on the ballot this fall. With its passage, House Bill 3 eliminates any chance voters will receive clear amendment explanations on the ballot. Instead, voters will only see the caption “Constitutional Amendment” and constitutional language approved by lawmakers this summer. Voters will be asked to vote “FOR” or “AGAINST.” Democracy NC

In addition to writing their own caption language, it is important to understand that most of the amendments are “blank checks”, with no details of how those items will actually be carried out. That will be figured out later, if they are approved and become law.  This is akin to signing a contract without knowing what’s in it. If these amendments are approved, they will become permanent and cannot be vetoed or changed by the governor or by future legislatures. The only way to make changes in the future would be to put yet more amendments on the ballot.

Has this piqued your curiosity? Are you wondering what these amendments are for and what’s included in them? Are they really necessary and will they help us or harm us? How does the language of the amendment inform or mislead us? What could possibly go wrong? Stay tuned for more details on the each of the six amendments.

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