Editorials

On N.C. constitutional amendments, voters now at least stand a chance

All five living N.C. governors came together this month to object to a constitutional amendment that would seize much of the governor’s power. Their efforts may have paid off.
All five living N.C. governors came together this month to object to a constitutional amendment that would seize much of the governor’s power. Their efforts may have paid off.

You might want to sit down for this: For the first time in a long time, something went more or less like it was supposed to in Raleigh.

Instead of head fakes, blame-throwing, fibs, dodges and tricks, Republicans made actual changes in response to their earlier inappropriate actions.

Here’s what happened:

After Republican legislative leaders schemed to put vague and misleading wording on the November ballot about their proposed constitutional amendments, Gov. Roy Cooper and others challenged in court. Judges ruled, correctly, that the wording on two of the amendments was unacceptable. And on Monday, believe it or not, legislators appropriately addressed the court’s concerns, and then some.

Whether these constitutional amendments are a good idea is a debate for another day. The victory for good government today is that voters will now at least have a chance to understand what they are voting on, and not be fooled by incomplete, misleading language on the ballot.

One of the two amendments changes the way judicial vacancies are filled. Right now, the governor appoints judges to fill unexpired terms. Under the constitutional amendment, though the governor would technically still do the appointing, the legislature would hold most of the power in picking the judges.

The ballot language for that proposal was going to claim that the process would be “nonpartisan” and “merit-based” and would rely on “professional qualifications instead of political influence…” Who wouldn’t support that?

But that language didn’t really tell the story, and the court recognized that. On Monday, the General Assembly approved ballot language that instead spells out in considerable detail how the process would work. The new proposal also adequately addressed a concern that the earlier version stripped the governor of veto power.

The other amendment at issue was a secret way for the legislature to seize most of the governor’s appointment power and thus drastically tilt the overall balance of power from the executive branch to the legislative branch.

The original ballot language for that one said it was designed “to clarify the appointment authority of the Legislative and the Judicial branches.” In truth, it did a lot more than that, prompting all five living former N.C. governors, of both parties, to oppose it.

On Monday, the legislature not only changed the wording, it changed the substance of that proposal. The new amendment lets the governor keeps his appointment power and changes only the makeup of the Board of Elections and Ethics. And while the ballot language is brief, and the proposal flawed, the new elections board composition under the plan appears to be truly bipartisan.

Congratulations to Republicans for getting it closer to right this time, and to Gov. Cooper and the five former governors for pressuring them to do so.

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