Last week went well for Democrats, both in North Carolina and nationwide. In the Tar Heel State, Democrats achieved their short-term goal of breaking the supermajorities, both in the NC House and NC Senate. Perhaps of less immediate significance, the statewide judicial races tilted in favor of the Democratic candidates, and those contests were newly partisan this year. These new jurists will be necessary bulwarks against legislative chicanery out of Raleigh.
The GOP’s judicial losses came also on the heels of two failed ballot amendments to the state constitution, both power grabs that were poised to shift even more executive responsibilities (and privileges) over to the legislature. (As an aside, the Governor of North Carolina already wields less power than almost any other chief executive of a state in the US). Had the amendments been successful, in tandem with Republican judicial victories, GOP leadership would have likely been emboldened to coalesce even more power into the hands of a few legislative leaders.
While there is much for Democrats to celebrate, the next battle in the legislature is already scheduled: on November 27th, the General Assembly is slated to reconvene and draw up the rules for the amendments which were successful. If you were unaware, one of the primary reasons to oppose the Voter ID proposal, for example, is that it had no implementing legislation. Simply put, we voted for a concept without any idea about how it might look in practice. If you’re inclined to support Voter ID no matter what, it may make no difference to you, but it really is bad policy to amend the constitution blindly. What forms of ID will be accepted? We don’t know. Responsible leaders would have given voters a scintilla of information about what Voter ID entailed; all we know is the last iteration, which was deemed unconstitutional. We want to ensure the validity of our election results, but we should not be ham-fisted and disenfranchise people along the way.
Voter ID will be the next big fight. The rules will be written in just two weeks and we don’t know what they’ll look like. Democrats have spent the last few months resolutely opposing Voter ID, and rightly so. Given the history of the GOP in this state, it would be a mistake to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to voting rights. But now that it’s inevitable, the message needs to change. There are ways to ensure that Voter ID is done fairly and without disenfranchising older and minority voters. Democrats, inasmuch as this is even possible, should work with Republicans to temper the end result. From what I understand, Republicans are averse to working with Democrats in almost any capacity down in Raleigh, which is a shame.
Regardless, Democrats would do well if they began making a concerted effort to demonstrate what a Democratic General Assembly looks like. This year was about breaking the supermajorities, but 2020 will be about outright control.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.