Political battles return over proposed constitutional amendments

Thursday, September 27, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The unifying influence of Hurricane Florence can only overcome so much with just weeks before the pivotal midterm elections.

The bitter divides became apparent again Thursday as a small group of current and former judges helped announce a $2 million television ad campaign against two proposed amendments to the North Carolina constitution. The amendments, if approved by voters, could drastically change the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government.

"It's a brazen power grab shocking in its audacity," Don Stephens, former superior court judge in Wake County, said at a news conference. "This will destroy the equal balance of power every healthy democracy needs."

The judicial vacancy amendment would require the governor to fill a judicial vacancy with someone from among at least two nominees agreed to by the legislature. Those nominees would originate from a pool of qualified candidates examined by an outside commission. Currently, the governor makes a choice, in most cases, without any legislative participation.

The elections board amendment would ask voters to let the constitution establish a bipartisan eight-member elections and ethics board. While the governor would still formally appoint the members, lawmakers would direct whom the appointees were.

The content and ballot questions of the two proposed questions have provoked rebuke from more than just Democrats; two Republican former governors also encouraged GOP leaders in the General Assembly to "withdraw both amendments and remove them from the ballot."

The statement, made jointly by Jim Martin and Pat McCrory, went on to say that "no group of citizens has petitioned the General Assembly for these two particular amendments. They have raised concerns among many of our fellow Republicans."

All five living former North Carolina governors spoke at a historic news conference on Aug. 13, vowing to campaign against the amendments, which they all argued violate the Separation of Powers clause.

Republican leaders have long maintained the two amendments are meant to preserve what they call a "non-partisan process" of appointments and provide better checks and balances on executive authority.

Bill D'Elia, a spokesman for Senate President Phil Berger (R-Rockingham, told ABC11. "This is just another misguided attempt to turn voters against two common-sense amendments. Former Gov. Bev Perdue appointed members of her own staff to the bench on her last day in office. I think most people would agree that is not how this process should work. As far as the other amendment, having a truly bipartisan ethics and elections board so there's no question of impartiality sure seems like a pretty good idea."

An additional four proposed amendments will appear on the November ballot, which include Voter ID and a cap on income taxes.