What won’t be on your ballot, but should be

Published November 30, 2023

By Tom Campbell

More and more frequently I am asked: What can we do when our legislature doesn’t pass laws not supported by the majority, favoring instead the minority? North Carolina’s governing leadership doesn’t appear to care what the majority (or even plurality) of us wants.
What we are witnessing is not what Republicans promised us in 2010 when they asked for (and gained) control of our state legislature. They claimed that Democrats had lost their way, that under Democrats’ control state government was bloated, misdirected and expensive. They promised us a smaller, less intrusive, less socially led governance with lower taxes.
Let’s see how that is working out. Yes, legislators lowered taxes. There is the likelihood they cut too much too often. However, state government certainly isn’t any smaller. Just look at the continued budget increases. They are off the page regarding government intrusion. Legislators are taking power away from the governor, the courts, municipalities and just about any and everything else, giving it to themselves. And their “culture wars” social agenda makes what Democrats did look like amateurs. Give them a 25 percent grade on their promises…failing by any yardstick.
The obvious answer is to change this leadership at the voting box, but that isn’t likely since they have gerrymandered themselves into perpetual rule. As of September, there were 7.3 million registered voters in our state. 36 percent were registered as unaffiliated voters, 33 percent were Democrats and 30 percent were Republicans. What we’ve got now is a government ruled by a minority party being led by those selected from a smaller minority of voters. In other words, a minority of the minority is running our state.
How can we regain control? Having studied this for some time I see only one viable course.
North Carolina needs to join the 26 other states that allow citizens to take control through ballot initiatives. Here’s how the procedure works: A requisite number of voters sign a petition which allows an initiative, either a proposed law or a constitutional amendment, to be voted upon by all the voters in a district or state. The majority of votes determines whether the initiative succeeds or fails. There are two types of ballot initiatives: a direct initiative puts the matter directly on the ballot without any additional approval required, whereas an indirect initiative would require legislative approval. Essentially, we would circumvent our legislature and ultimately force them to be more representative.
But herein lies the problem. In order to permit ballot initiatives in our counties or state the legislature must first vote to authorize them. And you can bet the farm lawmakers don’t want that to happen
What are some of the initiatives we would propose? First, I would suggest we remove the requirement that all judicial elections list the party affiliation of the candidate. Judges should be elected for their wisdom, their record and desire to support law and order. If you aren’t willing to research the candidates your vote shouldn’t be based solely on whether they have an “R” or “D” beside their name.
Another initiative would require an independent redistricting process. Other states have succeeded in this. Surely, we can also. A third would break the two-party domination in our state and allow a fair way for unaffiliated candidates to gain access on the ballot.
Our list would include a mandate that our traditional public schools be adequately funded and that teachers be paid better salaries. Another would limit the number of terms legislators can serve and set limits to the number of days they can be in session? The fewer days they are in Raleigh, the less mischief they cause.
You could probably find some initiatives you feel worth considering. If you could get a reasonable number of registered voters in the state – say 3 percent or 219,000 voters – to sign a potential statewide ballot initiative, then the voters could decide whether it passes or fails.
Why won’t legislative leaders allow citizen led ballot initiatives? The truth is leaders don’t trust us to initiate and vote on measures. They are scared to hear what we really think about the issues and their leadership. Simple proof of that assertion is found in the fact that they carefully and purposefully stack, pack and crack voting district maps that guarantees they remain in control. Bottom line: legislative leaders don’t want free and fair elections.
You can make change happen, but you need to act quickly. The dates for candidates to file to run in North Carolina’s March 5th primary elections begins next week, December 5th and closes on December 15th….a small window of time. But that’s time enough to encourage candidates to run for election. Begin by asking candidates if they support free and fair elections, then ask where they stand on allowing citizen led ballot initiatives in our state. If they don’t know or the answer is “no” find another candidate.
It’s time for us to take back control.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.  Contact him at tomcamp@carolinabroadcasting.com.