Over the past couple of weeks, the candidates for governor have been emailing state employees about legislative business. First, Gov. Roy Cooper emailed principals asking them to share an “open letter” with employees about the lack of a state budget and, hence, no raises for teachers. In response, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest emailed all of the state’s teachers blaming Cooper for the lack of raises because he vetoed the budget.
There’s a lot going on here. First, I don’t think either Cooper or Forest should be sending emails that could be perceived as pressure to support one side or the other. It sets a bad precedent that blurs the line between what is expected of employees and what is their right to their own political views.
Second, people get enough emails as is. They don’t need their political leaders emailing from accounts that don’t offer an “opt out” button. In other words, nobody should be spammed by their employers. I sure hope the emails don’t end in campaign email files.
Third, the budget fight is legitimate. Cooper’s email is certainly more honest than Forest’s response. Cooper vetoed the budget, in part, because he believes the raises are too low. Forest’s history, like a like a lot of Republican stories, begins after the worst recession since the Great Depression. Education spending, adjusted for inflation and taking into account population growth, was consistently higher under Democrats than under Republicans. We’re still below recession levels of spending on schools.
Forest also ignores the fact the passing a budget is the responsibility of the legislature, not the governor. If the governor vetoes it, the legislature can either override his veto or pass a budget that he will sign. If they can’t get enough votes to override then they need to go back to the drawing board. North Carolina’s threshold for override is a relatively low 60%. A lot of states require two-thirds majority to override.
Republicans in the legislature got spoiled holding a gerrymandered veto-proof majority for so many years. They regularly overrode vetoes, believing they could make the governor almost irrelevant when it came to passing legislation. Cooper has shown them that there actually are multiple branches of government.
Finally, while not related to the emails directly, the strength of the Democratic caucuses is on display in this battle. Both the senate Democrats and house Democrats have held their ranks together. Republicans may be frustrated, but leadership isn’t getting past an impasse. On the budget, they’ve failed.
So, the Republicans have failed to pass a budget. It’s not Cooper responsibility to do so, nor is he supposed to bend to the legislature will. It’s the GOP legislature’s fault teachers don’t have raises because they aren’t willing to compromise enough to pass a budget the governor will sign or that gets enough Democratic support to override a veto.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant.