News

Five former NC governors stand against amendments

All five living former North Carolina governors spoke out against two proposed amendments to the state constitution Monday.

“This is not about partisan politics,” former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin said at a press conference Monday. “It’s about power politics – and it must be stopped.”

Martin organized all five living North Carolina governors for the press event at the old State Capitol building Monday to denounce two proposed amendments to the state constitution.

Martin and fellow Republican Pat McCrory joined Democrats Jim Hunt, Mike Easley and Bev Perdue in condemning two amendments they say pose a threat to separation of powers.

The amendments in question – two of six on the ballot this November – shift power from the governor to the Republican dominated legislature. That’s a move opposed by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat – but part of a trend that began under his Republican predecessor, Pat McCrory.

One amendment would shift appointments to the state elections and ethics board to from the governor to the legislature – and open the door for the legislature to take over appointments to hundreds of boards and commissions.

McCrory successfully sued legislative leaders from his own party over that issue during his one term as governor, which ended in 2016. Having lost the legal argument, McCrory said, legislators are now trying to get around a near unanimous decision by the N.C. Supreme Court by changing the constitution.

The goal is nothing less than to “strip our executive branch of its rights and responsibilities,” McCrory said – at the expense of a separation of powers that is essential to both national and state government.

“This is what our Founding Fathers were so brilliant in doing,”McCrory said. “Creating checks and balance, the separation of powers.”

McCrory said he had a suggestion for legislators who want the responsibilities of the state’s governor.

“Have the courage to run for governor and win,” McCrory said. “Earn it.”

Perdue said she was dumbfounded upon reading the proposed amendments. The lawmakers should ask themselves what their goal is with them, she said.

“Everything that goes on here should be open, transparent and should be about the people of North Carolina,” Perdue said. “Does it make our lives any better? Does it help our families? Or is it all about making me Boss Hogg?”

Easley predicted that if the amendments pass, the state will be tied up in endless lawsuits. Investors would see it as an unstable “hornet’s nest” in which they wouldn’t be interested in doing business, he said.

“It’s remarkable how poorly these amendments have been drafted,” Easley said. “It would take years upon years for the courts to dissect them and tell the public what they mean.”

“When somebody asks you to vote for a change in your constitution, you have the right to know what the amendment is,” Easley said. “And if you don’t know, vote no.”

Asked if they were worried about their relationship with the GOP in opposing the amendments, Republicans McCrory and Martin said they were not. They felt it was their duty to oppose the amendments no matter who advanced them, they said, and hoped some GOP legislators would join them in urging voters to reject them in November.

In a joint statement Monday afternoon, Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) dismissed the former governors’ criticisms.

“While it’s not surprising former governors oppose checks and balances on the unilateral authority of their office,” the legislative leaders said in the statement, “We are confident the people will support a more accountable approach to filling judicial vacancies and approve a bipartisan balance on critical boards like the state’s ethics and elections commission over a system of purely political control.”

News

Senators taking aim at insurance companies behind bail bond industry

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s coverage of the for-profit cash bail industry and the movement to reform it, you’ll want to check out this week’s story on bail industry backers in the insurance industry from The Marshall Project.

From the piece:

Two senators want to shine some light on the business. On Friday, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sent a letter to 22 insurance companies requesting details of their finances and their relationships with the bail bond agents they underwrite.

The piece also goes into the way in which the movement to eliminate cash bail is impacting what has, for decades, been a growing industry.

After years of uninterrupted growth, bail bond premiums fell more than 3 percent in 2017 compared to the year before. The report forecast more decline as more laws change and lawsuits prevail.

“Ultimately, in states where reform measures significantly diminish — or eliminate entirely — the need for defendants to post cash bail, the business of bail bond agents and bail bond insurance specialists as currently constituted will likely cease to exist,” the report said.

Read the full piece here.

 

News

Report: Margaret Spellings could leave NC for University of Texas

UNC President Margaret Spellings and UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith during the board’s most recent meeting.

According to a report in the Austin American-Statesman, UNC President Margaret Spellings could be among those being considered to head the 14-campus University of Texas system.

The University of Texas regents are meeting Saturday and are expected to name one or more finalists.

Spellings’ family moved to Texas when she was in grade school. She is a graduate of the University of Houston. She worked under Texas Governors William Clements and George W. Bush before becoming part of the later’s presidential administration as Secretary of Education.

Spellings became president of the UNC system in 2015 but has had a rocky tenure, clashing with members of the UNC Board of Governors. A particularly conservative faction of the board, which has been highly critical of Spellings, has come to power in the last two years. The new chairman of the board, Harry Smith, is among those who have publicly clashed with Spellings.

Most recently, Spellings butted heads with board member Tom Fetzer over his revealing the name of a finalist for chancellor of Western Carolina University to a private agency run by a friend of Fetzer’s who conducts background checks. The candidate, who Spellings had selected from a group of finalists, withdrew their name leading to acrimony and cross-accusations on the UNC board.

Smith defended Fetzer’s actions, saying he didn’t believe he meant any harm and had the right to seek and distribute information about candidates during the search process.

Spellings said she was concerned about confidentiality, which she said is always paramount in an executive search.

Defending Democracy, Legislature, News

With GOP member a no-show, constitutional amendments commission postpones work

Attorney General Josh Stein and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall met Tuesday without the third member of the Constitutional Amendments Publications Commission, Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble.

Votes were postponed on ballot caption and description language for six amendments to the state constitution Tuesday when one of the three-member commission’s members didn’t show up to a scheduled meeting.

The Constitutional Amendments Publications Commission is tasked with creating short captions for the proposed amendments and longer descriptions of what each amendment would do that will also be available to voters. But all three members—N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble—must be in attendance for the commission to take a vote on the language.

Coble skipped the Tuesday morning meeting, stymying the ability of the commission to craft and vote on language for the ballots or descriptions.

The political tug-of-war between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-controlled General Assembly in the last week has complicated the commission’s work.

First, the General Assembly returned in a special session to write its own captions for the ballot, stripping the commission of the ability to do so. Republican leaders said they were afraid the commission would politicize the language.

Gov. Roy Cooper

Cooper vetoed the bill that took away the commission’s ability to write the captions. But legislative leaders, with a GOP supermajority, set up a vote Saturday to override Cooper’s latest vetoes.

Stein and Marshall, both Democrats, suggested Monday’s scheduled meeting of the commission go forward. If the veto is overridden, they said, the legislature’s caption language would move forward – but the commission is still tasked with preparing longer summaries of a paragraph or two that will be available through local boards of election.

In a Monday e-mail to Stein and Marshall, Coble argued the commission should postpone its meeting until August 6, after the veto override vote.

“I make this suggestion in order to avoid further politicizing the work of the commission and to avoid additional controversy,” Coble said. “Therefore, I will not attend any meetings of the Commission this week.”

Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble

Marshall replied by encouraging Coble to attend Tuesday’s scheduled meeting and offering to postpone discussion of the ballot captions until after Saturday’s vote. The commission could still proceed with the longer descriptions, she wrote.

When Coble failed to show for the meeting, Stein and Marshall said they were disappointed. They then turned the meeting into a “work session” on the amendment language. Going through each of the amendments, Stein and Marshall shared concern with how they were written, what they would mean for government in North Carolina and whether voters will actually understand the amendments on which they are being asked to vote.

Stein expressed concern about “the incredible disconnect between the words the voters will be voting on on the ballot and what the amendments actually do.”

“What I fear is that the voters are going to go in to get a beautiful birthday cake and see this wonderful picture with all this accurate, beautiful description of what it’s going to taste like…and then when they eat it, it’s cat food and they don’t like the taste it leaves in their mouths,” Stein said.

Of particular concern, both Stein and Marshall said, are the amendments dealing with filling judicial vacancies and an amendment that would give the legislature broad power to appoint members of boards and commissions. Both are politically controversial issues—the latter of which has been the subject of lawsuits between the last two governors and the General Assembly.

The amendment having to do with appointments on boards of commissions seems, at first glance, to deal only with the state board of elections, Marshall said. But when you examine what the amendment would actually do, it is much more expansive.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall

“My analysis of this is that it basically affects the separation of powers in the constitution of North Carolina,” Marshall said. “And it completely limits the governor in appointing positions that currently are appointable by him.”

Stein agreed.

“This amendment if enacted would represent the most radical restructuring of our government in 150 years, since the Civil War,” Stein said. “And I agree with you, the primary impact is to completely change the separation of powers. It doesn’t clarify the separation of powers, it changes it.”

“It would essentially give the legislature unfettered power to run the executive branch,” Stein said. “Which takes power away from the voters.”

Read more

News

Study: Higher ed seen as headed in wrong direction; partisan disagreement on why

A new Pew Research Center study finds a majority of Americans think higher education is headed in the wrong direction. But there’s disagreement about why – mostly along a partisan divide.

While more Republicans think higher ed is headed in the wrong direction than Democrats (73 percent vs. 52 percent), 61 percent of all adults polled held the view.

Republicans are more likely to believe that professors are bringing their own political and social views into the classroom (79 percent) and are too concerned about exposing students to things they might find offensive. Large percentages of both Republicans and Democrats think the system isn’t working because tuition is too high (97 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Republicans) and students are being inadequately prepared for the workplace (73 percent of Republicans, 56 percent of Democrats).

Also interesting: When asked about speech issues on campus, 87 percent of respondents said it is most important to allow people to speak their minds freely, even if some students find their views upsetting or offensive.

There is basic partisan agreement on that point, with 91 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats agreeing.

That’s somewhat at odds with student sentiments, according to a 2017 Gallup/Knight Foundation poll that found only 56 percent of students said protecting free speech is extremely important to society. Almost half those students said they favor campus speech codes and about two-thirds said the U.S. constitution should not protect hate speech.

See the methodology of the study here.