The Guilford Legislative Delegation public forum on Thursday, April 20 was well attended by people (not all of them citizens), but poorly attended by legislators.
Of the nine state legislators who represent parts of Guilford County, only four attended the meeting – and three of those were over 30 minutes late.
When the meeting started at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers in city hall, state Sen. Gladys Robinson was the only legislator present.
A lot of the people who spoke complained about the fact that legislators were not there and that it was their job to be there and listen to the people.
It’s unfortunate that the meeting was so poorly scheduled that the majority of legislators could not attend and only one legislator was able to get there on time.
But it is not the primary job of the legislators to come to a meeting in Greensboro and listen to people who may or may not be their constituents for two hours. It’s not their main job because that’s not how our system of government – a representative democracy – works. The job of the legislators is to go to Raleigh, develop legislation, discuss legislation and vote on it.
It is the job of the people to listen to the legislators when they are running for office and determine who they would like to send to Raleigh to represent them. Once they are elected and go to Raleigh, it is absurd to think that they are supposed to check with a majority of their constituents every time they vote on a bill. That’s not how the system is designed to work. It is designed so that the people elect someone to represent them and then they have to trust their judgment when bills come up for a vote.
The legislative process is not pretty. Unless you are down in Raleigh reading bills and what the legislative staff has to say about bills, and talking to people about what bills will actually do, it is almost impossible to keep up with all the various implications of even a relatively simple bill, much less something as complicated as the state budget.
Usually the legislative delegation meeting is held early in the session when not much is going on in Raleigh. But this meeting was scheduled during one of the busiest times of the 2017 session.
The state Senate is developing its budget, which means there was no way that Speaker Pro Tem of the Senate Phil Berger or Sen. Trudy Wade could do their jobs as legislators and be in Greensboro. They both had to be in Raleigh for budget meetings.
I would much rather have my legislator in Raleigh giving input on the state budget than in Greensboro being harangued by a crowd, most of whom don’t approve of anything that is being done by the Republican majority in Raleigh.
Robinson could be at the delegation meeting because she is a Democrat and has virtually no input on the Senate budget. Robinson will get to see the finished product and then can make a statement if she chooses before casting her no vote. But the Senate budget will be formulated by the Republican majority in the Senate, just as for decades it was formulated by the Democratic majority in the Senate.
The House members couldn’t be at the meeting on time because the House didn’t adjourn in Raleigh until after 5:30 p.m., and there is no way to drive from Raleigh to Greensboro in under an hour, particularly in the late afternoon. Reps. John Blust, Cecil Brockman and Amos Quick all made it to the meeting, but all three were late.
But it was not just the budget that caused problems for the legislators. April 27 is the crossover deadline, which means bills introduced in the House have to pass the House by April 27 or they are dead for this session, and bills introduced in the Senate have to pass the Senate or they are dead. So all the legislators are working hard to get the bills they have sponsored through committees and on to the floor for a vote.
It is far more important for the House members and senators to be in Raleigh until the session adjourns than it is for them to be in Greensboro, particularly when in Greensboro they would be hearing the same thing over and over again.
Robinson tried to explain what happens to bills in the legislature, but Blust did a better job of explaining it when asked if he would vote a bill out of the Rules Committee, which is the committee where bills are sent to die.
Blust explained that it can’t be done. Only the chairman of the Rules Committee can bring a bill up for a vote. If the chairman doesn’t then the bill dies in committee. Blust said that under Democratic and Republican majorities he had tried to have that rule changed so a majority of the Rules Committee members could bring a bill up for a vote, but neither the Democratic leadership nor the Republican leadership was willing to make that change.
The News & Record could do a service to its readers by explaining that most of the bills it writes about, which are introduced by Democrats, go to the Rules Committee and will be there until the end of time. The people of North Carolina elected veto-proof Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, which means the Republicans control everything in the legislature. The best way for a Democrat to get a bill on to the floor for a vote is to find a Republican co-sponsor.
When you see the N&R write about some bill sponsored by three Democrats, it is an exercise in futility. There is no reason for the Democrats not to sponsor any bill they want, but the N&R should tell its readers that the bill has virtually no chance of passing because the Democrats are in the minority. It was the same for Republicans during the over 100 years that the Democrats were in the majority.
The state House and Senate are extremely partisan. Most of what gets accomplished is first brought up in the Republican caucus meeting, where no Democrats and no press are present.
Blust made another point that people who have not worked in Raleigh often don’t understand. He said there are four distinct groups in the legislature – the Republicans in the House, the Democrats in the House, the Republicans in the Senate and the Democrats in the Senate. House Republicans and Senate Republicans don’t communicate much, nor do House Democrats and Senate Democrats.
A Republican senator may lobby Republican House members to pass a particular bill, but usually the House members don’t know anything about the bill, other than what they may have read in the newspaper, before it passes the Senate and is officially sent to the House.
One would think that Republicans in the House and Senate from the same county would work together, but that is rarely how it happens. It is the same on the Democratic side, except almost none of their bills pass either chamber so there is rarely a need to lobby for a bill.
A number of people spoke against gerrymandering at the delegation meeting.
It is absolutely true that in 2011 the Republicans drew the legislative districts to favor Republicans. For over 100 years or so the Democrats drew the districts and drew them to favor Democrats. In fact, the Republicans won the majorities in the House and Senate in districts drawn by the Democrats to favor Democratic candidates.
So for over 100 years the Democrats could have decided to implement nonpartisan redistricting and done so without the support of a single Republican. The Democrats did not.
But now that the Democrats are in the minority and the Republicans drew the districts, the Democrats have decided that it is unfair for either party to draw the legislative districts and it should be done by a nonpartisan group. To be fair, the Democrats should give the Republicans 50 years or 100 years to draw the districts and then make a deal for nonpartisan redistricting, but nothing in politics is fair.
The N&R coverage of the meeting was extensive – two articles and an editorial. If you read them you got the idea that it was understandable for Rep. Pricey Harrison to miss the meeting and understandable for Reps. Blust, Brockman and Quick to be late. It also sounded like Rep. Jon Hardister had a good excuse, with a previously scheduled engagement. Republican Rep. John Faircloth of High Point also did not attend the meeting.
However, the fact that Wade and Berger couldn’t be there because they had committee meetings on the budget was presented as if it were simply an excuse for not facing the public.
Along with gerrymandering, a number of people spoke about the need for Medicaid expansion. A couple of people spoke about House Bill 2, which has been repealed.
A number of speakers spoke against the effort by the legislature to have schools reduce class sizes in the lower grades.
Several spoke about the cuts to education funding when in fact the legislature has increased education funding.
One brave man spoke about the need to completely defund Planned Parenthood as the nation’s largest provider of abortions. Robinson had to quiet the crowd to let him speak.
It’s a shame that Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, who attended part of the meeting, had left because she might have picked up some pointers on how to control an unruly crowd. Robinson did a great job of running the meeting from beginning to end. She was concise, informative and accurate, and she quieted people when they spoke out of turn.
Another speaker that raised the ire of the crowd spoke about the need to expand the areas where carrying a concealed handgun is legal.
A number of speakers spoke against a bill that will increase the penalties for unlicensed drivers in the state. This would seem to be a bill everyone could agree on, but there was a strong belief among the speakers that illegal immigrants should not be required to have a driver’s license to drive in North Carolina. If that were the case then illegal immigrants would have more rights than citizens.
It was unfortunate that so few legislators could attend. Hopefully the next legislative delegation public forum will be scheduled at a time when legislators can attend.