Reality and scope of Berger-Moore constitutional power grab coming into focus

Tim Moore and Phil Berger

It’s been several days since the General Assembly pushed through an unprecedented slew of proposed constitutional amendments during the waning hours of the 2018 legislative session and, now, with the benefit of time to actually process them, North Carolinians are finally waking up to the reality and scope of the brazen power grab Senate President Pro Tem Phil Beger and House Speaker Tim Moore are attempting.

As the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill reported last week  in a story about the amendment to move appointments powers from the Governor to the legislature (and Raleigh’s News & Observer finally got around to featuring on its front page this morning) the power grab is a big one:

“By most measures, North Carolina already has one of America’s weakest governors. Now experts say a new ballot measure would take away even more power.

The measure, passed by a Republican-controlled legislature, takes aim at Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. But the underlying tensions it reflects go beyond party.

That’s why three former governors are joining Cooper in opposing a constitutional amendment that would give the General Assembly more power at the governor’s expense.

‘The legislature should be making laws, not running the government,’ said former Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican. ‘You have to defeat (the amendment). You have to kill a snake at every opportunity.'”

The amendment, passed this week by the legislature, would create a new Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement. Its eight members would be appointed by the legislature. Currently the governor names people to the board.

But if passed by voters, the amendment also would give the legislature power to make appointments to nearly 400 boards that oversee everything from the environment to public health to economic development. Those boards shape policies that affect virtually everyone in the state.”

Fortunately, the scope of the treachery in the amendments is starting to draw strong criticism. A Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on put it this way yesterday in characterizing the whole slate of amendments:

“Two-hundred-thirty years ago in the Federalist Papers, James Madison identified what the leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly are trying to do today with their bundle of State Constitutional amendments. ‘The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.’

Legislators who write the laws that we live under want voters to change the State Constitution and give lawmakers the power to appoint and pay the judges who will decide if those laws are constitutional. It is a dangerous power-grab by an elite few that weakens the voice of all North Carolina citizens.

This is not about Republicans vs. Democrats. This isn’t about liberals vs. conservatives. It isn’t even about Gov. Roy Cooper vs. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.

It is about taking a wrecking ball to the foundation of government established by our federal and state constitutions: The separation of powers and checks-and-balances each branch of government – executive, legislative and judicial – has on the other. This assault can also be found in other proposed amendments, including one to change the appointment and composition of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

And, we remind again, North Carolina’s Constitution makes very specific reference to the separate authority of the branches of government: ‘The legislative, executive, and supreme judicial powers of the State government shall be forever separate and distinct from each other.’”

Fortunately, in addition to speaking out, there may be another avenue to inform the public about all of this. As Policy Watch reporter Joe Killian reported on Tuesday, a panel of state officials must still weigh in on the language that will actually appear on the state ballot this November. Let’s hope they do their duty by labeling these amendments accurately for the blatant power grabs they really are.

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