Home Opinion OPINION: Kidnapping democracy in plain sight

OPINION: Kidnapping democracy in plain sight

I recently attended a forum discussing the future of elections in North Carolina. During a break, someone commented on my rants about legislative shenanigans, asking my assessment of the current General Assembly. I rambled a bit, but do remember mentioning the terms “historic,” and “power grab.”

NY Times columnist Tom Freidman provided me the brevity I was seeking in describing what is currently taking place in Israel. He says the takeover by Netanyahu and the far right was a “kidnap (of) Israeli democracy in plain sight.”

That accurately describes what this legislative session has accomplished. Senators Craig Meyer and Julie Mayfield (both Democrats) reaffirmed this in an excellent op-ed titled, “Our legislature is becoming more authoritarian.” Using the work of political thinker and author Ece Temelkuran, the two explain there are seven steps to take a state from democracy to authoritarianism. They proclaim our legislative leadership has “moved us six steps down that path.”

In their overreaching thirst for power, legislative leadership has weakened checks and balances, politicized independent institutions, corrupted elections, spread disinformation, quashed criticism and dissent, and marginalized vulnerable communities. Let us confirm those assertions.

This session passed a law that allows lawmakers to name 10 “Special” non-elected Superior Court Judges who can form panels of four to hear all constitutional challenges to laws legislators pass, effectively circumventing the elected judiciary….a judiciary that consistently votes along party lines in appellate courts.

The rape of state-supported education continues. Lawmakers already name all the members of the University System Board of Governors, but now has taken control of Community Colleges, eliminating the governor’s naming of board members. Legislators will now name all members not constitutionally prescribed, plus they can approve any future state president of the system. They would like to take control of the State Board of Education, however the constitution gives board naming authority to the governor. Instead, they continue to diminish traditional district schools by funneling ever more funds to private schools.

In one of their more egregious moves legislative leaders greatly expanded the authority of the governmental operations committee, allowing them to have warrantless search and seizure authority for records of almost every person with any connection to the state. Further, they prohibit those being investigated from telling anyone (even their own attorney) about the investigation, under risk of fines, jail sentences or firing. This new “secret police” oversight committee itself has no oversight, except for the Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem.

Further, they’ve taken Judicial Ethics Commission control away from the NC State Bar to a partisan legislative oversight committee. And if they decide to put another constitutional amendment to a vote, they have taken the authority for how to describe that amendment on the ballot from the Secretary of State and given it to the Legislative Services Officer.

“Legislative privilege” now allows lawmakers to essentially gut our public records laws, letting them decide whether or not something is a public record, and whether to release, destroy or even sell their records.

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Anyone criticizing their actions is subject to punishment, as Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey learned when lawmakers removed him from being State Fire Marshal. A new anti-rioting law appears directed to Black Lives Matter protestors. Their wrath includes marginalizing LGBTQ+ persons and women, passing a law prohibiting abortions after 12 weeks.

Most recently, partisan legislators showed contempt for elections by changing common-sense absentee ballot regulations, reconfiguring both state and county boards of elections, removing board-naming authority from the governor, and giving those powers to themselves. New provisions allow partisan poll observers to watch, photograph and possibly interfere in voting.

And we’ve yet to learn what mischief they concocted in the latest rounds of legislative and congressional redistricting. It would not surprise us to see a return to maps drawn to elect 10 Republicans and four Democrats to Congress instead of the current 7-7 split. You can bet gerrymandered legislative maps will favor more Republican districts.

Our founders worried about putting too much authority in too few hands, designing a system of checks and balances. They would be appalled at the current kidnapping of democracy by the legislature. And remember that the people running this legislature were never elected by all the people of our state. Each legislator was elected by a small percentage of voters, then those representing the majority party select leadership from among their body.

Further, much of the kidnapping isn’t even taking place in plain sight. Leaders clearly want to hide their actions. We are accustomed to lots of pork in the budget, but this recent spending plan contained many pages of “special provisions,” laws which either leadership couldn’t pass or didn’t want you to know they passed.

We don’t need an authoritarian government. One of our founding principles was that the majority rules. Sadly, the minority of the majority now makes the decisions.

If this doesn’t alarm you, it should.

Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. His weekly half-hour TV program, NC SPIN aired for 22 ½ years. Contact him at tomcamp@carolinabroadcasting.com