Rowan legislators, candidates react to former governors’ press conference

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 16, 2018

All five of North Carolina’s living former governors have filed a court brief in support of Gov. Roy Cooper’s lawsuit against the General Assembly that they hope will preserve gubernatorial powers.

Cooper’s lawsuit focuses on two proposed amendments to the state Constitution that he wants to keep off the November ballot.

The first amendment would limit the governor’s authority to fill judicial vacancies.

The second would grant the legislature rather than the governor the power to set up a new state elections board and make appointments to state boards and commissions.

Former Govs. Pat McCrory, Bev Perdue, Mike Easley, Jim Hunt and Jim Martin came together at a news conference Monday to voice disapproval of the measures, with Martin calling the amendments “a scheme.”

The five former governors, two Republicans and three Democrats, each expressed concern that the amendments are unconstitutional and threaten the balance of political power.

But some Rowan County legislators aren’t so certain.

Republican state Sen. Dan Barrett, who represents Rowan County in its 34th Senate District, said the amendment on filling judicial vacancies would make the state more consistent with the federal model, in which both the executive and legislative branches play a role in the selection of judges.

“The people get to decide whether these amendments should be a part of the Constitution, through the ballot, and I’m not sure why some find that objectionable,” said Barrett. “It strikes me that the governor is concerned that the amendments might pass and is trying to find any means possible to avoid the people having the right to vote.”

Barrett praised the amendment’s addition of a merit-based component to filing judicial vacancies, something that has been called for by many and “just seems to make sense,” he said.

State Rep. Carl Ford, a Republican representing Rowan County in the 76th House District and running for State Senate this year in the newly drawn 33rd District, said he agrees with a statement released by House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

“I believe the people of the state deserve more input in the filling of judicial vacancies and that our elections and ethics board should be bipartisan,” Ford said. “The new proposed amendments allow for more accountability and create more balance.”

Some Democratic candidates for General Assembly expressed agreement with the former governors.

Democrat Arin Wilhem, who will face Ford in November in Senate District 33, said he has a problem with all six proposed amendments schedule to appear on the ballot.

“I feel that they were very pushed. They’re very vague and were put there in hopes of giving one party the ability to sway things in their direction,” Wilhem said. “I’m proud of the governors for coming together and being nonpartisan on the issue.”

Fellow Democrats Bonnie Clark and Joe Fowler, campaigning to represent House Districts 77 and 76, respectively, agreed with Wilhem.

Clark said the governors’ message about the amendments was “an alarm.”

“(It’s) an alarm we need to sound through North Carolina about what is really going on in the state legislature and how far away from democracy and the Constitution these people are operating,” Clark said.

She said the legislators’ actions have set a tone of racism and sedition over the past four years.

Fowler said it is hard to find a word more descriptive of the amendments than “power grab.”

“It’s hard to come up with the reason for it,” Fowler said. “… A constitutional convention is a place for amendments to be done as opposed to adding six to a ballot.”