Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Other Perfidious "Assaults on Democracy"

Critics and Democrats claim Republican leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly “assaulted democracy” when they called for two legislative veto override votes early last Wednesday morning when only 64 of the 120 House members were there to vote.
Fifty-five Republicans and nine Democrats were present on the floor. Sixty-one legislators had to be present to constitute a quorum. The Republicans won 55-9. They overrode two of Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes by a three-fifths majority: the budget and funds for the Medicaid transformation process now underway in the state.
The Senate has to consider both veto overrides before they can become law.
The only people who are not shocked or surprised by any news about legislative maneuvers that appear to be “underhanded” or “dishonest” are legislators or staff who have been on the receiving end of such “attempts to destroy democracy” in the past.
The main difference is that they usually happen in the dead of night, not in broad daylight for everyone to see.
Until 2011, those receiving the short end of the stick since Reconstruction were Republican legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly.
In 2005, there had been a long and contentious battle over the state lottery in North Carolina ostensibly to help provide more funds for public education in the state. The vote was close but kept falling short of the majority needed to pass the N.C. Senate which blocked passage since the House was in solid Democratic control at the time.
On Aug. 30, in the dead end of the summer, two Republican senators were on excused absences which created the opportunity for a 24-24 tie in the Senate. Democrat Senate leaders Tony Rand and Marc Basnight called senators back to Raleigh because they could count and a 24-24 tie would mean Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue could cast the deciding vote for the lottery and send it to the House and then to Democratic Gov. Mike Easley for his signature.
Was that “fair” or “foul” play back then? Or was that a shrewd use of parliamentary procedure that everyone knows about once they are sworn in?
The mother of all legislative shenanigans though took place in Congress on Oct. 30, 1987, one week after the largest percentage one-day stock market crash since the Great Depression.
Members of Congress were terrified that they had contributed to the crash by spending too much money, built up too much national debt and needed to at least try to balance the budget. The Democratic-dominated House was considering a $23 billion deficit-reduction package that included $12 billion in tax hikes that 48 Southern Democrats did not want in the bill.
The first attempt failed by a single vote, 205-206. Normally, a bill would have to “layover” for at least one legislative day before reconsideration, but Speaker Jim Wright of Texas was livid and didn’t want to wait until Oct. 31, so he started twisting arms on the floor right away.
Not only did he twist arms, but he also moved heaven, earth and Father Time forward. The Democratic leadership formally adjourned the House to end calendar day Oct. 30 “officially” around noon. They then passed a resolution declaring that a new day had begun so they could “start” the next legislative day that same afternoon, Oct. 30, at 3 p.m. complete with a new “morning” prayer.
It “magically” passed by one vote, 206-205. Fellow Texan and freshman Democrat Congressman Jim Chapman changed his vote from “Nay” to “Aye” to provide Speaker Wright his “assault on democracy” victory, as Republicans and many in the press saw it then.
We were in 401 Cannon House Office Building. The next day, we noticed a lot of painting and refurbishing going on across the hall in a spare storage room.
One week later, three of Jim Chapman’s staff moved into their new “ancillary office.”
Congressman Chapman got a new office space for his staff for changing his vote to raise $12 billion in taxes.
Were these assaults on democracy? You decide for yourself.

(first published in North State Journal 9/18/19)

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