Tom Campbell: King of the hill is not good goverment

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Tom Campbell



Saturday, August 11, 2018

What we are currently witnessing in state government feels like watching the movie “Groundhog Day.” Our legislature passes a bill, the governor vetoes it, lawmakers override the veto, then the issue goes to court. These political games of “gotcha” are a lousy way to run a government. It is time consuming, costs money (taxpayer dollars) and distracts us from issues we need to address.

Why do we repeatedly go through these charades? In years past we boasted of being a “good government” state but the current rancor, hyper partisanship and political maneuvering don’t come close to such a claim. What we’ve got resembles the childhood game we played called “King of the Mountain,” where the biggest and most powerful lorded over those below.

Here’s what I believe most of us want. We want competitive elections where either candidate could win and the one with the best ideas prevails. Instead we get nasty elections that ignore issues and feature character assassinations. We want elected representatives who work for the common good, not for lobbyists, special interest groups or even just their own caucus.

We want representatives who insist that the best legislation comes from open public hearings and compromise, where public input and amendments are allowed, not from behind closed doors by an elite few. And we’re tired of tired claims that the other side did it first. We want citizen legislators for whom this isn’t a career, who serve for a time, then return home to be an average citizen.

Without taking sides with either political tribe or with one government branch over another there are two obvious changes that will help improve state government. The first is to return to a time when legislative leadership changed regularly. Prior to 1977, the house speaker served only one two-year term and leadership in the Senate came from the elected lieutenant governor, limited to one four-year term. This practice upheld the guiding principles of our founders, who were fearful of placing too much power in too few hands. Now senior legislative leaders serve almost as long as they like.

Former House Speaker Joe Mavretic makes the case. “The first four years,” Mavretic says, “they work for the people. After that, they work for their friends and special interest groups.” Remember these powerful leaders were not elected by the majority of the 6 million voters in our state. They were chosen by a few thousand voters in a particular district, then, by whatever means they could employ, were able to convince the majority of members of the majority party in their respective chambers to give them the power.

Our founders were fearful of giving the governor too much power but at least our executive is elected by all the voters. Not so with House or Senate leadership. This needs changing.

The second change is to end gerrymandering, where politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around. North Carolina is not a ballot initiative state, meaning a large number of citizens are unable to force an issue to a vote. Change must be made by legislators, who obviously don’t want to give up power.

Here’s how we get it done. When a legislative candidate asks for your vote, ask him or her to sign a pledge to set up an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission. If enough do so we can end gerrymandering, then work on terms for legislative leaders. Both will help in restore good government to our state.

Tom Campbell is former assistant state treasurer and creator and host of NC SPIN, a statewide panel discussion that airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 12:30 p.m. Sunday on UNC-TV and 10 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday on the North Carolina Channel.Contact him at www.ncspin.com.