102 people are running our state
Published May 18, 2023
By Tom Campbell
A reader asked why I am so insistent that the General Assembly is making the greatest power grab since Reconstruction. My problem is that 102 people are making decisions that don’t represent the majority of people in our state.
I apologize in advance that the following is a lot of numbers, but please bear with me. I hope you will see where I’m pointing.
We elect 50 State Senators and the ideal average number of people in a Senate district is 212,614. We elect 120 Representatives in the North Carolina House and the ideal number of people in a district is 88,589. It is the people elected by voters in these districts who then select the Senate President Pro Tem or the House Speaker. Since there are 30 Republicans in the 50-member Senate, more members than Democrats, the 30 in the GOP caucus vote in lockstep to select Senate leadership. The same is true in the House, in which 72 of the 120 members are Republicans and they choose the House Speaker.
The Senate President Pro Tem and the Speaker name committee chairs and members. More importantly, these leaders determine what legislation will be heard and acted upon, as well as which bills never see the light of day. Here’s my point: At most there are 72 people in the House and 30 in the Senate, or 102 people, who are essentially running this state. They can do pretty much whatever they want, as we increasingly witness through their budgets and other measures they pass.
Our founders intended a government of checks and balances because they were fearful of too few having too much power. Before January of this year there were specific checks on power grabs. We had a governor belonging to a different party than the one running both houses of the legislature, and the governor could veto bills found disagreeable. If 60 percent of the members in each house, meaning representatives from both political parties, disagreed with the governor’s veto they could vote to override it. That possibility has now vanished, since longtime Democrat Tricia Cotham switched parties and is now a Republican. Now both houses of our legislature have “supermajorities,” meaning that if all the members of the Republican caucuses vote together (which they most always do) they can override a governor’s veto. A constitutional check on power is eliminated.
Further, our Supreme Court now consists of four Republicans and three Democrats and it is increasingly obvious they will also vote the Republican positions. Another constitutional check is eliminated.
It would be one thing if these “supermajorities” were really legislating what the majority of North Carolinians wanted, but the notion of doing the best for the most has gone the way of the Blackberry.
In recent years we have seen a dramatic change in the philosophical posture of the GOP. Republicans have done an about face, from being Ronald Reagan libertarians to Donald Trump authoritarians. The Reagan mantra was that government was the problem and the less government we had the more freedoms each individual would have.
Instead of wanting more freedoms for you Republicans now want to scare you, tell you who is threatening you and what dangers loom ahead. Invoking their new authoritarian posture, they want to take away your freedoms under the guises of protecting you.
No longer can women have the freedom to control their own bodies. They must be protected by authoritarian rules. Witness this week’s override of Governor Cooper’s veto on a ban of abortions after 12 weeks. Never mind that the majority of people in our state (even Republicans) strongly favor abortion. The “supermajority” knows best how women should behave.
No longer can children (and adults) have the freedom to read books they choose. Those books the authoritarians find offensive must be banned. No longer should every qualified citizen have the opportunity to vote, but we must impose tighter and tighter rules on who can vote and how they can do it. And we should certainly not have competitive elections where the candidate with the best ideas wins. No, we must have highly gerrymandered districts where those in power can ensure they remain in power. And teachers should not be allowed to tell our children about slavery or how it impacted our state and nation. Teachers must be tightly controlled as to how they can teach history.
Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All and The True American, recently said, “As the libertarian Republican Party has morphed into the authoritarian one, an opportunity has arisen: the political left has a chance to claim freedom, a value it should never have conceded.”
These 102 people running our state might claim to be protecting our freedoms. In actuality, they are taking freedoms away from us.
We might need to change the slogan on our license plates. No longer can we claim “First in Freedom.”