Off to a Cantankerous Start in the Statehouse

Nelda Holder Photo: Tim Barnwell

Nelda Holder Photo: Tim Barnwell

Legislative News by Nelda Holder –

The 2017-2018 NC General Assembly will reassemble itself on January 10 in Raleigh’s Statehouse for (another) special session, in the midst of serious debate over two vitally important aspects of our public life: congressional and judicial redistricting.

Or, put in a more voter-centered way way, whom you get to vote for and how your local and state judges will be selected.

Judicial redistricting appeared on the public charts rather suddenly last year via a semi-infamous tweet by Rep. Justin Burr of Albemarle (R-Montgomery/Stanly). There had been no orderly and inclusive study or judicial or public demand for redistricting, and the bill (HB 717) that passed the House on October 5 drew bipartisan criticism from many quarters because of that.

The Senate slowed the action when it received the bill, but the issues it addresses (or creates) are presumed to be key topics for the upcoming session (see “Buncombe County Stands to Lose under Proposed Judicial Changes,” Urban News, October 11, 2017).

Senate considerations that have been publicly discussed include an appointed judiciary or “merit selection,” which would potentially eliminate elections altogether except for retention elections. That would require a Constitutional amendment, which would give the public the right to vote it up or down.

There is no apparent Senate consensus regarding the redistricting proposal for the judiciary, which would split Buncombe County into two judicial districts. But a bill passed by the Legislature over a gubernatorial veto in 2017 has already cancelled the judicial primary for the state this year.

Another bill was introduced to provide for a state constitutional amendment that would shorten judicial terms to two years, thus guaranteeing a judiciary that is in a perpetual state of running for office (with the fundraising implications that entails).

Also bear in mind that we will soon hit the primary season with no State Board of Elections because of a legal squabble between the legislative and executive branches. Gov. Roy Cooper entered a lawsuit against the Legislature’s special session law (December, 2016) creating a combined State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

Cooper’s argument is that the new board would violate the constitutional separation of powers (the law establishes an equal number of Democrats and Republicans must serve; the previous elections boards have been controlled by the sitting governor’s party).

Then another court gavel fell on the legislative body. On January 9, a panel of federal judges declared North Carolina’s congressional map unconstitutionally gerrymandered. In a 191-page opinion written by Judge James A. Wynn Jr., the map was found to be “motivated by invidious partisan intent,” in violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. It must be redrawn by January 24.

Given this decision, the special session beginning January 10 may have a suddenly revised agenda.

And what might The People be doing?

With the return of the General Assembly to Raleigh environs for another year of “deliberation,” there is the now-traditional return of the “HKonJ” (Historic Thousands on Jones Street) People’s Assembly. Now in its twelfth year, this version is sponsored by a coalition that includes more than 125 NC-NAACP branches combined with some 200 other social justice organizations. It takes place on Saturday, February 10.

Known as part of the “love and justice movement” in the state, HKonJ addresses an agenda that includes support for public education, workers’ rights and livable wages, health care for all (including Medicaid expansion), environmental justice, equal protection under the law (without regard to race, immigration status, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation), voting rights for all, and criminal justice.

It’s a big platter. And it’s proved to be a big movement. An estimated 80,000 took part in last year’s rally, led by former NAACP-NC president Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who stepped down this year to concentrate on a “national moral revival” envisioned to revive Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s national Poor People’s Campaign.

The February 10 march, billed as the Moral March on Raleigh & the HKonJ People’s Assembly, is called “Taking the Resistance to the Ballot Box.” Participants assemble across from Raleigh Memorial Auditorium starting at 8:30 a.m. for a pre-rally including speakers. The march proper, which winds over to Fayetteville Street and up to the state capitol for more speakers, will begin at 10 a.m. (More information is available at the NAACPNC website naacp.org).

Talk with your legislators ….

It is this columnist’s opinion that the majority of the Buncombe County delegation to the Statehouse are uncommonly (though it should be common) responsive to their constituents. Pick up the phone and let them know what you think. Or contact them online. Here’s all you need to know to do that. Let’s activate “government by the people” in 2018!

Sen. Chuck Edwards

  • R-District 48
  • Office: (919) 733-5745
  • Chuck Edwards@ncleg

Sen. Terry Van Duyn

  • D-District 49, Democratic Whip
  • (919) 715-3001
  • Terry.VanDuyn@ncleg.net

Rep. John Ager

  • D-District 115
  • Office: (919) 733-5746;
  • Home: (828) 628-2616
  • John.Ager@ncleg.net

Rep. Susan Fisher

  • D-District 114
  • Office: (919) 715-2013
  • Home: (828) 258-5355
  • Susan.Fisher@ncleg.net

Rep. Brian Turner

  • D-District 116
  • Office: (919) 715-3012
  • Brian.Turner@ncleg.net

 


Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts. Read Holder’s blog, www.politicallypurplenc.com

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