by John Grooms
No-holds-barred, fuck-you politics. That’s what GOP lawmakers in Raleigh dealt in and embraced late last night. All in one evening, the New Bosses took advantage of some Democratic legislators’ hospitalizations, made deals and promptly broke them, and — when they couldn’t muster enough votes in the House to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the Racial Justice Act — seemingly snapped. That was when they adjourned. Then — contrary to the specifics of the N.C. Constitution — they called another meeting for 12:45 a.m., to attempt overrides of other Perdue vetoes, all while trying to keep Democrats from knowing what they were doing.
Those override attempts didn’t go well, so the lawmakers settled on overriding one lone veto, and reinstated a measure that forbids the state from automatically deducting N.C. Association of Educators members’ dues from their paychecks. The GOP’s stab at having their own Night of the Long Knives fell flat, and what they wound up with was more like Night of the Pen Knives.
The whole thing was bizarre, including the late-night session, a 2 a.m. press conference by Democrats, legislators snacking and watching the Orange Bowl at taxpayers’ expense, and the sight of House Speaker Thom Tillis’ minions physically blocking a reporter who wanted to ask questions. That was followed by Tillis’ bald-faced assertion that the whole process had been “transparent.” If SuperThom meant transparently arrogant and contemptuous of democracy, he was right; otherwise, not so much.
In the end, reinstating the screw-the-teachers act was all the GOP could manage, although they will no doubt try to override the voter ID and offshore energy exploration vetoes later. In the meantime, they gave themselves a black eye by their secretiveness, rancor and Machiavellian (not to mention unconstitutional) tactics.
Read an account of the shenanigans in this excellent piece by News & Observer writer John Frank, which details the disturbing night session. Simply put, there is no way the veto override of the teachers’ tax deduction won’t be challenged, and reversed, in court, since the lawmakers had no authority to call the second, post-Orange-Bowl-and-popcorn meeting.
Here are the specific sections of the state constitution that deal with the issue:
Sec. 11. Sessions.
(1) Regular Sessions. The General Assembly shall meet in regular session in 1973 and every two years thereafter on the day prescribed by law. Neither house shall proceed upon public business unless a majority of all of its members are actually present.
(2) Extra sessions on legislative call. The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall convene the General Assembly in extra session by their joint proclamation upon receipt by the President of the Senate of written requests therefor signed by three-fifths of all the members of the Senate and upon receipt by the Speaker of the House of Representatives of written requests therefor signed by three-fifths of all the members of the House of Representatives.
Sec. 5. Duties of Governor.
(11) Reconvened sessions. The Governor shall, when required by Section 22 of Article II of this Constitution, reconvene a session of the General Assembly. At such reconvened session, the General Assembly may only consider such bills as were returned by the Governor to that reconvened session for reconsideration. Such reconvened session shall begin on a date set by the Governor, but no later than 40 days after the General Assembly adjourned:
(a) For more than 30 days jointly as provided under Section 20 of Article II of this Constitution; or
(b) Sine die. If the date of reconvening the session occurs after the expiration of the terms of office of the members of the General Assembly, then the members serving for the reconvened session shall be the members for the succeeding term. (1969, c. 932, s. 1; 1977, c. 690, s. 1; 1995, c. 5, s. 2.