Friday, September 30, 2011

A brief backgrounder to explain Bev Perdue's musings on suspending elections

I can't get all worked up about my governor, Bev Perdue's musings about how great it would be if we could postpone elections for a couple of years so that our elected officials could actually get something accomplished without worrying about electoral backlash. Here is what she said.
"You have to have more ability from Congress, I think, to work together and to get over the partisan bickering and focus on fixing things. I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. The one good thing about Raleigh is that for so many years we worked across party lines. It's a little bit more contentious now but it's not impossible to try to do what's right in this state. You want people who don't worry about the next election."
Her aides talk about how she was just joking, but if you listen to the audio, she doesn't sound like she's joking and the audience doesn't seem to be laughing.

Of course, we can't suspend elections. You know there is that whole Constitution standing in the way. So whether Perdue was joking or serious, she's not dumb enough to think this would actually happen.

And she's being totally disingenuous to claim that there is such a tradition of working across party lines. What she really means is that the Democrats have had almost permanent control over the state legislature. The Republicans haven't controlled the state senate except for a brief period in 1898 when they worked together with Populists to have a fusion party. They won control of the state House of Representatives in 1994, but lost it in 1998. Gerrymandering has worked against N.C. Republicans and made it more difficult for them to gain control. Now that they finally won control of both houses in the 2010 election, the Republicans are exercising payback for what has been building for over a century.

So no wonder Perdue likes to pretend that there is this long history of across-the-aisle bipartisanship. This is similar to national Democrats who pretend that things were so wonderful and bipartisan when they controlled the House of Representatives for over 40 years before the 1994 elections. Things always seem to have that golden aura around them when the Democrats are in control and don't have to worry about those nasty Republicans too much.

This past couple of weeks, I have taken a couple groups of 10th graders to the State Legislature for a tour and to meet with a legislator. We do this every couple of years at our school. Both times the legislators we met with happened to be Democrats. And one thing was clear. They are now seriously ticked at being in the minority. They complained about their seats being moved from the front of the chamber to the rear. They complained about the committees they are now on. They complained about the schedule. They complained about the cuts that the Republicans are making in programs in order to balance the budget without tax increases. They just don't like being in the minority.

When I talked with the students afterward, they seemed uniformly unimpressed with those complaints. Even as 10th graders they recognized that these complaints probably echoed what Republicans would have said when they were in the minority.

The one issue that the students truly cared about what the Republicans' decision to place on the ballot an amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman. Gay rights is one issue that high school students feel very deeply about and, at least among my students, the great majority strongly gay marriage. So they asked these legislators about the proposed amendment and all three of the Democrats who spoke to us were clearly opposed to the amendment and resentful that the Republicans had pushed it through. But the Republicans couldn't have pushed it through without Democratic support. And this is where the story gets interesting and lets you know what North Carolina Democrats really care about.

There were two possible dates for the vote on the proposed amendment. It could go on the date of the primary which will be some time in May. Or it can go on election day in November. The Republicans preferred to put it on the November 2012 ballot. Democrats who wished to vote for the amendment balked at that. And just as Neil Munro wrote in the Daily Caller, the Democrats were willing to throw North Carolina gays under the bus to make sure that the vote did not take place on the same ballot on which Governor Perdue and Barack Obama are running for reelection.
On Tuesday, the state Senate set a May date — not a November date — for a ballot to decide whether marriage should be defined in the state’s constitution as a union of one man and one woman, thereby barring gays from being allowed to marry.

The 30-to-16 compromise vote kept the ballot far removed from Obama’s November election, but also scheduled it for a Republican primary in May when many conservatives — but few liberals — are likely to vote, said Democratic state Rep. Marcus Brandon, the only gay state legislator.

“The Democrats would not vote for it to be in the November election, but they would vote for it in May, and that’s how the compromise was set” to disadvantage gays, said Brandon. “They just threw them right under the bus,” he said, as Obama landed in the state for a two-stop campaign-style tour.

Obama “does not want to go into North Carolina — a swing state he captured in 2008 —to talk about marriage,” said Heather Cronk, the D.C. representative for GetEQUAL, which opposed the amendment. “He thinks he can’t win on that … [but] it seems unbelievable that the Democratic Party in North Carolina, the Democratic National Committee and the president would all roll over at the same time and stack the deck against us.”

Advocates of rights for gays say they could have defeated the amendment in November, but they see little chance of winning in May. “We had a very good chance of being the first state to defeat [a marriage amendment] on the ballot if we voted in November,” Brandon said.
When my students asked the Democratic legislators about the scheduling of the vote on the proposed amendment, they candidly admitted that this was the exact reason why their Democratic colleagues who voted for the amendment also insisted that it go on the May ballot instead of the November one. They were bitter about it, but also frank with the students. They were very afraid that religious conservatives would be mobilized to come out to vote on the amendment and would then vote against Democrats on the ballot. They didn't want it to become a campaign issue or the subject of lots of media reports while the Democrats held their national convention in Charlotte. So they sacrificed any chance of defeating the amendment in order to preserve Democratic electoral chances. And don't you just know that Perdue and Obama aides plus the Democratic Party in North Carolina were working behind the scenes to make sure that the amendment got put on the May instead of the November ballot. The fact that few Democrats will be turning up for the primaries when both the presidential and gubernatorial Democratic candidates are running unopposed and there is no senatorial election almost guarantees that the amendment will pass was less important to them than keeping it away from the November election.

That is how Perdue's concern for getting things done manifests itself.

I don't think she really was serious about postponing elections. But there does seem to be somewhat of a trend for Democrats to decry vicious partisanship when it means that they're not getting their way. James Taranto has a nice roundup of liberals yearning for a little less democracy. He has quotes form Peter Orszag talking about how we need to hand over more decisions to unelected panels such as the Independent Payment Advisory Board to decide how to alter Medicare payments. And, of course, there is always THomas Friedman who periodically expresses his wish that we could be, well, more like the Chinese.

Do you remember any Republicans musing in 2006 that it sure would be nice if they could postpone elections in which they were heading for a shellacking for a few years? I don't. Or how about in 2008? And when Democrats were blocking the Republican majority from voting on Bush's judicial nominees, they weren't also calling for the end of filibusters and such non-democratic rules in the Senate. It's only when they aren't getting what they want that they suddenly discover that they aren't fully on board with democracy. Bev Perdue was fine with what she sees as a history of bipartisanship in North Carolina when that meant the Democrats calling all the shots and a few quiescent Republicans going along for the ride. Now that the situation has changed, she likes to muse about the virtues of not having a democracy. And if that means that choosing a date when few Democrats will be heading to the polls to place a ballot amendment to block gay marriage, so be it.