Republicans take a mulligan, keep controversial amendments on ballot

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The Republican-led General Assembly on Friday reconvened for a special session to respond to a court order striking two proposed constitutional amendments from the November ballot.

The amendments, if passed, could have drastically changed the balance of power in state government. In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of judges called the way the amendments were presented on the ballot as "misleading" and they do not inform the public on the amendment's potential impact.

"We don't believe we erred, but we're listening to what the court says," Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake County) told ABC11. "They've told us their concerns and we have the opportunity now to address them.

With the election less than three months away, Republicans could have decided to leave the two amendments off the ballot and revisit the controversial amendments at a later date. With today's session, they are choosing instead to amend the proposed amendments and rewrite the questions that will appear on the ballot for voters.

The House passed two amended bills on Friday, earning the necessary 3/5 majority to send the proposed constitutional amendment to the ballot.

The first proposed amendment, on judicial vacancies will now have a ballot question as follows:

( ) FOR ( ) AGAINST

"Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the appointment is solely at the will of the Governor to a process in which the people of the State will nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend nominees to the Governor via legislative action that would not be subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees."

The second proposed amendment, on elections governance, could now have this ballot question:
( ) FOR ( ) AGAINST

"Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement to administer ethics and elections law."

Significantly, the change to this ballot question drops the language and statutes from the original bill which proposed "to clarify the appointment authority" of the Governor, which would shift appointment control of all boards and commissions to the General Assembly.

Despite the changes, Democrats continued to decry what they label Republican "power grabs."

"Ever since Governor Cooper won the (2016) election, the Republican leadership has shifted their focus dramatically from policy to power," Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake County) asserted to ABC11. "That's what this session is all about."

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, goes 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.

Ahead of Friday's session, the office of the current governor, Roy Cooper (D), said that his office could file another lawsuit to challenge the proposed amendments even with new questions on the ballot.

"These new amendments remain deceptive, unconstitutional and wrong," spokesman Ford Porter wrote to ABC11. "Legislators are continuing their scheme to rip up our constitution to eliminate the separation of powers while also creating a deadlocked board of ethics that will protect legislators by stopping corruption investigations. Legislators should be voting to protect our constitution instead of insulating themselves from ethics and corruption investigations."

Later Friday, Cooper released another statement:

"The people deserve a truthful ballot. These amendments remain dishonest and dangerous like the old ones that the court ruled unconstitutional."
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