Former governors warn us to reject blatant power grab

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It is remarkable when five former governors of the same state, three Democrats and two Republicans, stand shoulder-to-shoulder and sound the same message.

But that is what happened on Monday when Jim Hunt, James Martin, Mike Easley, Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory gathered in Raleigh at the old Capitol and urged voters to reject two amendments that will be on the November ballot. They say those two amendments are no more than a power grab by Republicans in the General Assembly who at times appear drunk with their own power.

One of those five has been governor of this state for every year from 1977 to 2017, covering 10 terms and 40 years. Their appearance together is likely unprecedented, not just in North Carolina but in any state in the union.

There are six amendments that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, and last week Republicans scrambled to have them generically labeled so a panel previously assigned the task of choosing the wording could not try to sway voters this way or that way through that process.

Of those six, this newspaper today stands ready to endorse one, which calls for a voter ID in North Carolina. The reality is most states have voter IDs, and we see no reason North Carolina can’t as well, but past attempts have been blatant in their attempt to suppress minority vote to benefit Republican candidates. We believe that a voter ID could be an important step in curbing some of the voter fraud that we all know exists in Robeson County but continues without resistance while giving us a handful of county commissioners who serve themselves and not you.

There are as well amendments providing a constitutional right to hunt and fish, the point of which escapes us; lowering the cap on the income tax from 10 to 7 percent, which we believe can unnecessarily tie the hands of future lawmakers who might be grappling with budget challenges; and expanding the rights of crime victims, which does sound inviting.

The governors joined hands in opposing an amendment that would shift control of filling vacant judgeships away from the governor and toward the legislature. If voters say so, the governor would choose from at least two recommended candidates from a pool deemed qualified by a “nonpartisan judicial merit” commission.

The other amendment the former governors oppose would give the General Assembly appointment powers over the state elections board, which the governor has had for more than a century. Already, legislators have modified the board in an effort to keep the Democrats from enjoying a majority.

Changing the constitution is not something that should be done capriciously. There are only two paths for that to happen, through a constitutional convention and by putting the choice to voters through at least a 60 percent vote in both houses of the General Assembly.

Critics have said Republicans are trying to drive turnout in November for voter ID and amendments such as for hunting and fishing rights, capping the income tax and expanding crime victims rights are likely to do just that. It probably explains why Gov. Roy Cooper and fellow Democrats are fighting so hard through the courts to keep the referenda off the ballot.

That doesn’t appear likely, however, and we are sure voters in November will say yes to a voter ID, which might be this county’s salvation. But at what expense?

While some of the amendments appear to be no-brainers, we hope voters will be thoughtful in their approach to others. That doesn’t appear to be what the majority party was in placing all six of these amendments before the voters.

Republicans sometimes seem to have forgotten that the day will come again when they are the minority party.