Paul O’Connor: Time for bed, GOP
RALEIGH — The wrangling between federal judges and GOP legislators brings to mind an episode from early childhood.
I was probably 6, and I’d misbehaved, so my punishment was an early dinner, early bath and early bedtime.
I claimed innocence, then protested the minor nature of the infraction and then criticized the severity of the punishment. When none of that worked, I resorted to “please, please, please!”
Then I had a great idea: stall.
First, I ate slowly. Chewing dutifully every bite of spam, which I hated. Eating slowly was necessary because I engaged my mother in a thorough discussion of the day’s events, whatever “Earl the Whirl” and I had been doing.
Then I savored that bath. I washed my ears and my feet, and brushed my teeth deliberately, drawing everything out as long as I could stand it.
Nothing worked. The appointed time arrived and it was off to bed.
That’s a long way of getting to my point, but maybe you’ve noticed the parallel between the U.S. Court of Appeals order, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, that 28 legislative districts be redrawn, and the legislature’s infantile defenses, obfuscations and delaying tactics.
When it comes to a federal appeals court, the legislature has about as much chance of winning now as I had when mom said I was going to bed early for my misdeed.
Nonetheless, they’re trying for several reasons.
Foremost, legislators want to avoid new elections before they convene again in the spring, or maybe even again this year, to strip Roy Cooper of more powers and find new ways to suppress voter turnout.
In what is a totally fallacious argument, they’re saying voters elected legislators to two-year terms and therefore legislators should serve two years. But the courts have said that the elections were fraudulent and illegal. So, they don’t full two-year terms. If you steal someone’s season tickets to the Carolina Panthers and get caught after game four, you don’t get to use the tickets for the next four games and the playoffs.
Then there’s the argument that they don’t have time, now, to get district maps drawn in 30 days. That’s laughable. I’ll bet a donut there is a fully prepared, computer-drawn map sitting in either state or national GOP headquarters that does the absolute best it can to maintain the Republicans’ disproportional bounty of seats.
But they argue that with a 30-day deadline, they wouldn’t have time for public hearings. That’s really funny. When has this crowd listened to anyone? If people disagree with the next set of gerrymandered districts, they’ll probably order police to arrest them.
Publishing new maps now creates two problems for the GOP. First, it infuriates the Republican legislators who benefited by the illegal districts and who will face competitive reelection campaigns for the first time when there are fair maps. The leadership needs time to explain to them that they are the sacrificial lambs in this effort to save their skewered democracy. Second, it makes it possible for the court to order early elections once legal maps are ready.
While I don’t fully remember my failed 1957 procrastination, I suspect my ultimate goal that evening was not only to stay up until my usual bedtime but beyond it. And I bet today that the Republican strategy is to so monkey wrench the judicial process that no maps are passed until after the 2018 elections, thus guaranteeing one more illegally elected General Assembly.
It is the job of the federal appeals court to assure that doesn’t happen, just as it was mom’s job to send me to bed early.
Paul T. O’Connor, who has covered state government for 39 years, writes for Capitol Press Association.