In North Carolina, what a political witch hunt really looks like

The Observer editorial board

N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, here in 2010, is facing possible impeachment proceedings.
N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, here in 2010, is facing possible impeachment proceedings. jrottet@newsobserver.com

On Wednesday afternoon, in the midst of a breathless display of legislative pettiness in Raleigh, Rep. Becky Carney of Mecklenburg County tried to get her head around what was happening in front of her.

At an N.C. House committee meeting, a Republican lawmaker wanted to take the first step toward impeaching Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, a Democrat. This despite having no state legal opinion or law enforcement agency saying Marshall had even done anything wrong.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Carney said.

We have another suggestion. North Carolinians, regardless of their political persuasion, should be outraged at the depths to which political acrimony has sunk in their state legislature. It’s poisonous and it’s dangerous, and it is not limited to an action against the secretary of state. But this attack is especially contemptible.

It’s one that began back in February, when Republican Rep. Chris Millis of Pender County launched an investigation into whether Marshall was allowing undocumented immigrants to be notaries public. Millis says Marshall’s office has licensed more than 300 non-citizens as notaries. But at least 250 of those are in the federal DACA program, which allows people brought illegally to the U.S. as children to remain in the country. State and federal laws don’t require notaries to be U.S. citizens, but they are required to “reside legally in the United States.”

Marshall, in a statement, said that every non-citizen has presented “appropriate federally-issued work authorization documentation” and that her office has “openly communicated with the General Assembly about our process.” If Republicans thought otherwise, they could raise the issue with state attorneys or law enforcement.

Millis, it appears, hasn’t had any success doing things the right way. When asked by Rep. Nelson Dollar of Wake County if any state or federal law enforcement agency had decided to investigate or bring charges against Marshall, Millis said only that he “did a legislative request.”

“The answer to the question is no,” Dollar shot back, according to WRAL.com.

Dollar, as it happens, is a Republican. Yet even he decided to join his party members on the committee in voting for a resolution calling for an impeachment investigation. If the full House approves, a committee of nine Republicans and six Democrats will decide if there’s enough evidence to warrant proceedings that would remove Marshall from office.

It is, sadly, only the latest example of how Republicans have moved from mere political vitriol, from the usual sniping across the aisle, to very real attacks on people’s livelihoods and careers.

Just this legislative session, Republicans have gutted the office of Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein with nonsensical budget cuts that will likely result in the firings of more than 100 attorneys and staffers. In that same budget, Republicans also surgically removed the positions of three staffers in the Department of Public Instruction who happened to be campaign volunteers for former state superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat.

And now this – a significant step toward impeachment proceedings without waiting for legal or law enforcement support. Don’t laugh, North Carolina. Don’t cry. Be ashamed at what your state legislature has become.