Ex-govs set party la­bels aside – and won

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Triangle & N.C. - BY ROB CHRIS­TENSEN rchris­tensen@new­sob­server.com

The un­sung he­roes of this elec­tion were the five for­mer gov­er­nors who played an out­sized role in con­vinc­ing vot­ers to re­ject two ill-con­ceived con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments that would have turned North Carolina’s gov­er­nor into a glo­ri­fied rib­bon cut­ter.

The two amend­ments were a naked power grab by an al­ready mus­cle­bound Re­pub­li­can leg­is­la­ture, al­low­ing law­mak­ers to in­flu­ence who gets to be a judge and giv­ing them vastly more con­trol over the elec­tion ma­chin­ery.

That is the equiv­a­lent of al­low­ing Carolina coach Roy Wil­liams to hire all the ref­er­ees that work games in­volv­ing UNC. Good for Ol’ Roy and the Carolina faith­ful, but not so great for the rest of the ACC or col­lege bas­ket­ball.

You can’t hardly blame the Re­pub­li­can leg­is­la­ture for try­ing whisk a fast­ball past the vot­ers. As old­time Tam­many Hall politi­cian Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Plunkitt once ob­served: “I seen my op­por­tu­ni­ties and I took ‘em.”

The amend­ments were drafted so ob­scurely that they re­sem­bled the fine print of your in­sur­ance pol­icy. The courts made the leg­is­la­ture trans­late them to stan­dard English – and even after the re­write they still looked like gob­bledy­gook.

But the five for­mer gov­er­nors – and five for­mer state chief jus­tices – said “not so fast.”

North Carolina al­ready has one of the na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion­ally weak­est gov­er­nors, ex­perts agree. But even a 98-pound weak­ling of a gov­er­nor was too much for the Jones Street crowd.

In a time when Democrats and Repub­li­cans can hardly agree on what to have for lunch, there was bi­par­ti­san agree­ment that the GOP leg­is­la­ture had jumped the shark.

In stepped Demo­cratic for­mer gov­er­nors Jim Hunt, Mike Easley and Bev Per­due, as well as Re­pub­li­can ex-gov­er­nors Jim Mar­tin and Pat McCrory.

Join­ing them in op­po­si­tion were all six of the for­mer state chief jus­tices – Democrats James Exum, Henry Frye, Bur­ley Mitchell, and Sarah Parker and Repub­li­cans Rhoda Billings and I. Bev­erly Lake Jr.

Es­pe­cially for the Re­pub­li­can for­mer of­fi­cials, this was a case of putting prin­ci­ples over party, and im­por­tant ideas of gov­er­nance ahead of nar­row par­ti­san­ship.

Tar Heel vot­ers not only strongly re­jected the Re­pub­li­can leg­is­la­ture’s plans to su­per­size their pow­ers, but in fact they did the op­po­site – they

clipped their wings.

Come Jan­uary, the GOP will still have a leg­isla­tive ma­jor­ity, but they will no longer have the su­per­ma­jor­ity that has al­lowed them to over­ride any veto by Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

This al­most cer­tainly will lead to more bi­par­ti­san­ship, be­cause Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers will have to take into ac­count a Cooper veto when they put forth their agenda.

This is, of course, good news for Democrats in gen­eral, and Cooper specif­i­cally.

But the Demo­cratic gains came with a price.

The blue wave wiped out some of the more mod­er­ate con­ser­va­tives, such as my two rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Sen. Ta­mara Bar­ringer and Rep. Nel­son Dol­lar, both of Cary. An­other Re­pub­li­can who was de­feated was Sher­iff Don­nie Har­ri­son, a hands-on law en­force­ment pro­fes­sional who has pro­vided good ser­vice to the peo­ple of Wake County since 2002.

With po­lar­iza­tion and ger­ry­man­der­ing, more cen­trist can­di­dates have been los­ing – whether cen­ter/right or cen­ter/ left. Among the mod­er­ate Democrats who have bit­ten the dust are con­gress­men Mike McIntyre, Heath Shuler and Larry Kis­sell.

Even a strong Demo­cratic year could not sur­mount the fire walls that were built around the ger­ry­man­dered con­gres­sional dis­tricts. All 13 con­gres­sional in­cum­bents – 10 Repub­li­cans and three Democrats – were re-elected or re­placed with some­one of the same party.

The Re­pub­li­can dom­i­na­tion came even though the GOP won only 50.3 per­cent of the votes cast in the U.S. House races run­ning in dis­tricts that the courts had ruled un­con­sti­tu­tional.

After the spend­ing of tens of mil­lions of dol­lars on the con­gres­sional con­tests, the only change in the del­e­ga­tion is in the 9th dis­trict where Re­pub­li­can Mark Har­ris will re­place Robert Pit­tenger, both Char­lotte-area Repub­li­cans.

Pit­tenger, a staunch con­ser­va­tive, was ousted in a GOP pri­mary last spring amid ac­cu­sa­tions that he was in­suf­fi­ciently right wing.

Har­ris, a pas­tor, owes his elec­tion to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who twice cam­paigned for him, and per­haps to Rep. Mark Mead­ows, a leader of the House’s arch-con­ser­va­tives.

Ger­ry­man­der­ing has cor­ralled vot­ers into dis­tricts that are ei­ther heav­ily Re­pub­li­can or strongly fa­vor Democrats. Such an ar­range­ment tends to en­able the most ide­o­log­i­cally ex­treme can­di­dates.

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