"There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." ― Daniel Webster
by Brian Irving
Daniel Webster could have been talking about the Republican majority in the 2015 N.C. General Assembly. Not only do they mean to govern, they also mean to insure that only they can govern. Having the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation isn't enough. Nor is gerrymandering electoral districts to guarantee Republican victories.
The Republicans want to make GOP stand for Grand Only Party. They're perfectly content with keeping North Carolina a one-party state, as it was for many years under the Democrats. They just want it to be their party. Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev would be proud.
Sen. Chad Barefoot wants to redraw Wake county commission districts using lines originally drawn for the school board. He claims this will reduce the costs of running for office and give rural areas and smaller municipalities better representation. Except that none of the smaller municipalities were consulted on the plan, nor have they asked for it. Nor will the people in the county have no say.
Meanwhile in Greensboro, Sen. Trudy Wade wants to redraw the city council districts, supposedly at the request of the business community. Except the “business community” has been silent on the issue. Nor will the people in Greensboro have a say.
Sen. Barefoot fears about the high cost of running for county commission misses the point. No politician would admit that the real reason it costs so much to run for office is that there is something to be buy.
So long as government at all levels grows more powerful, and regulates, rules, or runs more and more aspects of our lives, money will find its way into the system. You can't fault a business owner or special interest group for using its money to try to influence a legislator to pass laws in their favor. They must do this to survive. It's a natural instinct for people as well as groups.
The most dazzling illustration of the Republican attempt to re-form government is a bill by Sen. Ron Rabin to extend the terms of office for state legislatures to four years, and stagger the elections so the entire legislature isn't elected all at once.
The dazzling part is, in the transition period, the legislation would grant the Republican speaker of the House and the Republican president pro tem of the Senate the sole power to extend the terms of a select group of legislators. In effect, 25 senators and 60 representatives would get a pass on having to run for reelection. It's not enough that nearly half of the General Assembly seats are already unopposed contests.
When the U.S. Senate was established, the new Constitution also called for staggered terms. But the divisions were chosen by lot – not at the whim of a politician. Apparently that's not good enough for North Carolina.
In an obvious attempt to make the bill seem like real reform, it would also set term limits for legislators. The “limit” is four terms – 16 years. That's not a limit, it's a career.
In their eagerness to control, however, the Republicans are missing a key point. Our state is changing, More and more voters are expressing their disgust with and disbelief in the mythical “two party” system by registering unaffiliated. Or Libertarian.
Republicans have also forgotten that when they won enough elections to gain control of the General Assembly they did so in districts gerrymandered by the Democrats. So in ten years, as our state continues to grow and the traditional voter demographics get skewed, their machinations may backfire.
Libertarians believe that freedom to vote for the person of one’s choice is an essential element of constitutional government. The General Assembly should enact no law abridging the right of a constitutionally qualified person to be presented to the electorate via the ballot.
Rather than limit who can run for office, or how many times, why not open the doors to more people? Make it less burdensome for new parties and independent candidates to get on the ballot. Break the monopoly of the two-party system and create a free market in political ideas.
We also support a redistricting process conducted by an independent, non-partisan agency for all local, state, and federal electoral districts.
Irving is communications director for the North Carolina Libertarian Party. He lives in Cary.
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