Commentary: Would you buy a pig in a poke?

Commentary: Would you buy a pig in a poke?
October 25
02:00 2018

By Stephen Boyd

The N.C. Constitution is the basis of our state’s government.

If approved by voters, the six constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall will affect our government (and our lives) for decades to come.

The amendments legislators have offered to voters are neither necessary nor clear. In fact, they are unnecessary, vague, and misleading.

For example, the first amendment listed—at the very end of an exceptionally long ballot—purports to protect “the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.” Despite the implication, there is absolutely no threat to that right in our state.

The second amendment protects “the absolute basic rights for victims” of crimes. This amendment, drafted by a California billionaire, would clog our courts, cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually (with no funding source identified), and delay justice for everyone.

The third amendment caps the state income rate at percent. This may sound like a tax cut for you, but instead it is another break for the wealthiest among us at the expense of our state’s basic needs. After all, our income taxes pay for things necessary for all of us—public schools, clean air and water, disaster recovery, roads, transportation, parks, public health services and public safety. As a teacher recently asked, “How can I vote for this when I don’t have erasers in my class?” Given the realities of our changing economy, this amendment would simply mean that property and sales taxes will inevitably have to rise, hitting the middle class, working people, and the working poor harder, at the expense of our other basic needs.

The voter photo ID amendment is a solution searching for a problem. A study of our elections from 2000-2012 found that there were TWO cases of voter impersonation, the only form of impropriety an ID mandate can prevent. Further, the amendment does not specify what form of photo ID will be required. The courts have already blocked, as discriminatory, one such law passed by the General Assembly. Even for those in favor of photo ID, there is no way to know what you are voting for and how much it will cost.

The fifth amendment on “filling judicial vacancies” essentially shifts that responsibility from the governor, elected by all N.C. voters, to a small group of power-hungry legislators seeking partisan gains. As a result, all living former N.C .Supreme Court Chief Justices and five governors, from both major parties, oppose this amendment.

The final amendment would purportedly “establish an eight-member bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement.” This is both unnecessary and misleading. N.C. already has a Bipartisan Board of Elections. The amendment would remove the unaffiliated member and promote partisan gridlock. All former governors and chief justices, from both major parties, have also opposed this amendment.

So, why would the ruling majority in the Assembly ask us to vote for permanent constitutional changes, without giving voters any idea about their actual effects on us?

Given the recent history of this majority, it seems clear that it wants to shift, permanently, the tax burden for services necessary for the well-being of all of us from those most able to pay their fair share to those less able to afford the extra burden. If that is the goal, how is the best way to achieve it? Lead off with the right to hunt and fish. Pretty clever and pretty deceptive. Then, ask our permission to restrict the voting rights (voter photo ID and gridlocked elections commission) of those who will be paying more. Finally, try to snatch the appointment process of judges who may rule against these strategies.

The current legislature plans to re-convene on Nov. 29, following the election, to pass laws specifying the effects about which they refuse to be honest with us now. The same legislators who put these amendments on the ballot –not the new legislators whom we will elect on Nov. 6 – will then get to write those laws to cement their undemocratic agenda, all to the detriment of North Carolina.

My daddy always told me not to buy a pig in a poke; I will vote AGAINST on all six amendments. I hope you will do the same.

Stephen Boyd teaches in the Department for the Study of Religions at Wake Forest University.

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