Could slate of constitutional amendments backfire on the Right?

By: - July 3, 2018 5:30 am

For more than a year and a half now, the appalling reality of the Trump presidency and the profound threat it poses to American democracy have combined to spur thousands upon thousands of North Carolinians to lend their time, talents and money to a burgeoning movement that is commonly referred to as “the resistance.” Across the state, in all 100 counties, caring and thinking people who once dismissed or avoided politics and political organizing have become activists for change.

Their common goal: to do something – anything – that will register their outrage about Trump and his policies and to help rescue their country. This imperative has only been heightened by the political reality in North Carolina, in which state legislative leaders have regularly done their worst to out-Trump Trump when it comes to enacting regressive public policies.

The results of the new birth in progressive organizing are apparent in myriad places – from the hundreds of house meetings that have arisen spontaneously in even the state’s most conservative counties, to the growing immigrant sanctuary movement, to the countless marches and rallies that have taken place in the state’s larger cities, to the unprecedented energy Trump critics are bringing to the 2018 elections, to the public opinion polls that predict dramatic change in November.

All that said; one obvious missing element for those who would mobilize is the lack of a central, tangible and nonpartisan objective. Sure, it’s good to be against and respond as quickly as possible to the long and destructive list of policies that Trump and state legislative leaders have advanced in Washington and Raleigh, but it’s also extremely difficult. The proposals are numerous, ever-changing, frequently buried in a haze of confusing procedural votes, and often go from back of the envelope to law in just days.

Partisan political activity in an off-year election that lacks any high-profile statewide races can be similarly challenging.

Interestingly, this problem may have been unwittingly solved in the waning days of the 2018 legislative session by Republican leaders at the General Assembly. Faced with the distinct prospect of losing their conservative supermajorities in November, Republican leaders opted to approve a bevy of proposed constitutional amendments for the November ballot. Their obvious dual objectives: to lock in as many permanent changes to state law as possible prior to 2019 in the event Republicans lose their veto-proof legislative majorities and to rouse conservative voters to action by advancing issues perceived to be popular on the right.

What the GOP leaders may have not thought completely through, however, is that the effort to rewrite the state constitution may actually provide the anti-Trump forces with just the organizing tool they need. Think about it: what could be more of a Trumpian threat to democracy than to send six ill-conceived, power-grabbing constitutional amendments to the state ballot in just a few days with virtually no public input?

And make no mistake: that is precisely the reality that confronts the state after last week’s spasm of amendment writing.

The voter ID amendment is an obvious attempt to suppress the votes of poor, elderly and minority voters. The proposed income tax amendment is a ruinous and blatant giveaway to the wealthy. The two amendments to alter appointment authority of the governor amount to egregious and deceptive legislative power grabs. Even the victims’ rights and hunting and fishing amendments make changes that could lead to serious unintended consequences if locked into the constitution.

What’s more and perhaps even more important, each of the proposed amendments constitutes a genuine threat to democracy simply by virtue of proposing to write fundamental law changes into the constitution that would never have won approval in this deeply divided “purple” state were it not for the presence of conservative legislative supermajorities made possible by gerrymandering.

To make matters even more outrageous, legislative leaders are already laying the groundwork for a special, post-election, lame duck session in which they plan to implement their amendments, pass still more law changes and, perhaps, even pack the state Supreme Court.

In other words, if there was ever an obvious, tangible and nonpartisan objective for North Carolina’s resistance movement, a “No on All Six” grassroots campaign for the summer and fall of 2018 is it. Such a campaign would be a simple, straightforward and powerful way for North Carolinians to say “no” to Trumpism and the threat it poses to democracy and unify their growing movement while also making one very loud and unified statement that would undoubtedly resonate across the nation – perhaps even more than a change in control at the General Assembly.

The bottom line: It will be an uphill fight. The GOP controls so much dark money and so many levers of power that pushing back against the slate of amendments – many of them designed intentionally to mislead voters – will be very difficult. But, it’s also hard to think of a more worthy cause for the Trump resistance.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast.