Now that the North Carolina General Assembly session has ended, it appears that one thing is clear: The final inning of the session included three strikeouts for the Democrats and Governor Perdue. There were also an error and a couple of switch-hitters, all based on a significant GOP triple play.
The push came at the very end.
First, the most important piece of legislation that any state government confronts on a yearly basis is the budget. With North Carolina’s biennum budget process, the baseline of the fiscal year 2012-2013 spending was actually set last year; typically, though, the Legislature and governor use the short session to make “tweaks” to the budget.
After formalizing a game plan, the GOP legislature sent the budget to the governor, who had vetoed the two-year version last year in a bruising battle that ended with her veto being overridden by the legislature.
With her pledge not to seek re-election and instead campaign for an increase in the sales tax to pay for education spending, Perdue wasn’t in a position to barter as she did last time.
Perdue entered this year’s game as a lame duck with miserable poll numbers weighing her down. As is the case in many sports, it is better to be on offense than defense. Perdue’s problem was that it seemed nobody wanted to be on her team in an election year.
Republicans in the state Senate had the necessary votes for their override, and it wasn’t surprising that the GOP-led House secured a number of Democrats to ensure their override of the governor’s veto.
What was surprising was what happened in that same day’s proceedings on two other critical items that the governor had stamped her “no” on — the revisions to the Racial Justice Act and beginning the process toward tapping into underground shale gas using hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as “fracking.”
The Racial Justice Act, passed by the 2009 Democratic-legislature, allows death row inmates to use statistics to argue that racial bias contributed to their sentences. Republicans were able to secure four Democrats who had voted for that original legislation (Reps. Brisson, Crawford, Hill, and Owens).
Last week, the four voted to override Perdue’s veto of revisions to the Racial Justice Act. The new legislation reduces the use of statistics in challenging death sentences.
The final part of the triple play was the override of the “fracking” legislation on an unforced error by Democratic Representative Becky Carney of Charlotte, who mistakenly pushed “aye” to override the governor’s veto of the controversial natural gas drilling bill.
But in the game of politics, those who know the rules can win the game. When Rep. Carney sought to invoke Rule 24-c of the House, which says that a “member may change a vote” but only with the approval of the full House and if the change does not affect the final result, Republican majority leader Stam cut her off with a parliamentary move to lock in the win.
Her lone vote provided the required 60 percent needed to override a governor’s veto. But she had help from other Democratic teammates, most notably three Democrats who did not cast votes on the original bill (Rep. Hamilton had an excused absence, while Reps. Brisson and Hill did not vote) but who did vote to override the governor’s veto.
I’ll be reviewing more of the historic legislative session in the next few blog posts, but going into the long, hot summer season before the upcoming bruising fall campaign, Democrats can look with some optimism to their concluded season —their record wasn’t nearly as bad as the Charlotte Bobcats.