Anticipating lawsuits over two new bills affecting the November ballot in North Carolina, Republican legislators on Saturday overrode vetoes of those bills after launching criticisms at their Democratic colleagues and at Attorney General Josh Stein and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, legislators were back in session and debating whether to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of the two bills. By noon, the veto-proof Republican majority had successfully overridden both vetoes and passed the bills into law.
In a statement shortly after the votes, Cooper said the legislature is “crippling the checks and balances” that state government ought to have in place.
“It is shameful that legislators have spent their time deceiving North Carolinians and attempting to rip up our constitution instead of improving public education and growing our economy,” he said.
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But Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, downplayed concerns that the legislature was trying to meddle in the election and overhaul state government through misleading constitutional amendments.
Stein and Marshall raised that concern last week, with Stein calling the six proposed amendments “the most radical restructuring of our government in more than 100 years, since the Civil War.” Berger, however, dismissed that at a Saturday morning press conference as “absurd legal theories.”
The law related to the amendments will take away the power of a state commission to write short captions for the six constitutional amendments on the ballot for voters to see. Both Stein and Marshall serve on the commission. The other law will stop a Republican candidate for the N.C. Supreme Court from having his GOP affiliation listed on the ballot. The Republican Party did not endorse the candidate, who was previously a registered Democrat.
That Supreme Court candidate, Raleigh lawyer Chris Anglin, has promised to sue over the new law that affects his candidacy.
“No matter what happens next, our campaign has been victorious because it has exposed the folly of partisan judicial elections, and the legislature’s contempt for the checks and balances of our democracy,” Anglin’s campaign consultant, Perry Woods, said on Saturday.
But Republican legislators focused more on their concerns that a separate lawsuit might be filed against the law affecting the constitutional amendment descriptions.
“Because we’ll override these vetoes and because the constitutional amendments on the ballot this year are popular, we expect the Democrats to try to convince an activist judge to prevent the amendments from appearing on the ballot at all,” Berger said Saturday morning.
The six proposed amendments that legislators voted to put on the ballot this November were, in large part, supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. Supporters say they’re necessary to improve state government. Opponents say they appear to be aimed mostly at either increasing GOP voter turnout this November or at taking more power away from the governor’s office.
Republican Rep. David Lewis said he fears a potential lawsuit might keep the amendments off the ballot altogether.
“It’s an attempt not to let the voters weigh in and speak their minds if they’re for or against the amendments.” he said. “It’s an attempt to once again use the courts to short-circuit the will of the people.”
While crowds at the legislature Saturday were far smaller than the normal crowds when the legislature meets on a weekday, there were several dozen protesters who came with signs and, in one case, a costume mocking Berger.
Raleigh writer Scott Huler dressed up in regal attire and called himself “Berger King.”
Holding a sign that said “Screw the people, I make the rules,” Huler said Republicans only have as much power as they do in the General Assembly because of gerrymandering and shameless power grabs.
“There’s no limit to these people, and that’s why I’m dressed as a king,” Huler said. “Once upon a time in America, we opposed kings.”