The Democrats are opposing all six constitutional amendments put the ballot by the Republican legislature.
One complaint is that the two regarding judicial appointments and the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement represent an attempt by the Republican legislature to usurp power from the Democratic governor, and there is certainly some truth to that.
But the legislature has a history of butting heads with the executive branch and often, because North Carolina has one of the weakest gubernatorial offices in the country, the legislature wins.
And it’s not something the Republicans thought up on their own. As near as I’ve been able to determine, North Carolina is unique in that the office of president pro tem of the Senate is arguably the most powerful in state government. This was true when Democrat Marc Basnight was president pro tem and has continued with Republican President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
It is not an accident and the Democrats did it.
In 1989, the people of North Carolina made what the Democratic legislature considered a big mistake – they elected Republican Jim Gardner as lieutenant governor. Gardner was the first Republican lieutenant governor elected in North Carolina in the 20th century.
As a result of having a Republican lieutenant governor, the legislature stripped much of the power from the lieutenant governor’s office and gave it to the president pro tem of the Senate, making that a much more powerful position.
And if it hadn’t been for the political influence of former Gov. Jim Hunt, the governor of North Carolina would likely be much weaker. When he was first elected in 1976, Hunt convinced the legislature to allow the governor to run for a second term. Up until then the governor could not run for reelection. If you’re in favor of term limits, that was a real term limit. One and done.
Hunt served two terms and came back eight years later and was elected for two more. In his second stint he convinced the legislature to give the governor veto power.
So before Hunt, the North Carolina governor could only serve four years and had no veto power. The power to appoint people to state offices was one of the few powers the governor had.
So even if the constitutional amendments pass, Gov. Roy Cooper will still be more powerful than most of the governors in North Carolina history.