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Proposed Constitutional Amendments Invite Controversy, Divide Conservatives

Erik Hersman/ Flickr
The group Americans For Prosperity opposes a constitutional amendment that would change how judicial vacancies are filled.

North Carolina will vote on six constitutional amendments on Nov. 6 that were written by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Two of those amendments would shift power from the governor’s office to the legislature, and both amendments have divided conservatives.

Two former Republican governors oppose them and on Monday, Americans for Prosperity — founded by the Koch brothers — came out against an amendment that would change how judicial vacancies are filled.

When there is a judicial vacancy in the current process, the governor fills it. But the amendment would change that, shifting power to the General Assembly. The amendment would create a commission that would decide which candidates are qualified. The commission would then whittle that list down to two names, and would send both names to the governor — who would choose one.

The commission would, in theory, be non-partisan. It would have no more than nine members, who would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, the Governor and the General Assembly. But there are no details as to how many nominations each would get. The General Assembly will decide that if the amendment passes.

Democrats have said the GOP would be “court packing.” They see a scenario in which a Democratic governor can’t replace Democratic judges with other Democrats.

Americans for Prosperity said it’s bad to have a non-elected commission involved.

“Any of us who have been in politics long enough realize that does open the door to special favors from special interests or cronyism,” said Americans for Prosperity N.C. director Chris McCoy.

The group launched Monday what it said is a “six-figure” Web and direct mail campaign urging people to vote against the judicial vacancy amendment.

“I know the Republicans aren’t happy necessarily with where we have come down on this,” McCoy said. “It’s not the usual place to be with opposing a lot of these…but it comes down to good policy.”

The other amendment would change the makeup of the state elections board, and the way board members are appointed.

The board currently has nine members: Four Republicans, four Democrats and an independent. The governor makes those appointments.

The amendment would shrink the board from nine to eight members. The majority and minority parties in the legislature would appoint four members each, and critics say it would lead to tie votes and deadlocks.
Here is how that might impact controversial decisions.

If a local elections board voted to reduce early voting hours, its decision could be appealed to the state board — so long as the local decision wasn’t unanimous.

But if the state board is tied, the county plan would remain.

The state’s five living governors – Republicans and Democrats – are opposing those two amendments in particular.

“I think the system is fine as it is,” said former Republican governor Pat McCrory. “I don’t think they need to be appointed by the legislature, and I think we need to keep the politics out of it as much as possible. So, I joined this coalition and made very strong comments against my fellow Republicans.”

But McCrory is upset about a TV ad by the group Stop Deceptive Amendments that he feels misrepresents his position. The ad said he and the other governors appose “all” amendments, and urges voters to reject all six.

McCrory said he supports four of the six amendments, and he thinks Democrats are trying to deceive voters with the commercial.

There are four other constitutional amendments on the ballot.

One would require a photo ID in North Carolina elections, and another would cap the maximum state income tax at 7 percent — from 10 percent.

There is also an amendment to protect the rights of hunters and fishermen, and another amendment that would give crime victim's more rights.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.