by Bob Geary
[Update, 8:30 am, 9/13: I heard from several good sources late last night that the outcome in the Senate today is uncertain. Three or four Republicans, including Sens. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, and Richard Stevens, R-Wake, were said to be unwilling to vote for the new SB 514. Whether any Democrats would vote for it wasn't known. With a 31-19 majority, the Republicans can't afford to lose many and still get the three-fifths vote — 30 votes out of 50 — needed to put the issue on the ballot. A late-night plea went out from conservative Christian groups like Called2Action urging followers to contact Stevens, in particular, and get him on board. The Senate is slated to start today's session at 12 noon. That's also when a rally on the pro-gay rights side begins on Halifax Mall, the area behind the Legislative Office Building.]
The original post from 9/12:
Legislatures are never pretty, and process goes out the window with regularity whenever a majority of the members are willing to chuck it.
Even so, I've never seen anything like what the state House of Representatives did today, which is to introduce a constitutional amendment after lunch and pass it before dinner. Debate on the bill — which began the day as Senate Bill 514, something to do with Nutrient Sensitive Waters, and at mid-day became Senate Bill 514, an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment — is continuing in the House as I write this, at 5 p.m. But the outcome is a foregone conclusion: The House will pass it with at least four Democrats joining the 68 Republicans to provide the needed three-fifths majority. (And, as I finish, it does, by a vote of 76-42. And quickly passes it a second time, as required, something that usually is done the following day. So the bill moves to the Senate.)
The same small group of Democrats who voted for the Republican budget in the House this summer are apparently ready to vote for this too, having "cut a deal" that the referendum — the public vote on the amendment — will take place during the first primary election of 2012 rather than at the November general election.
So much for the big Republican argument of last week that the referendum should be held in November to assure that the greatest number of voters have a say on it.
Now, the vote will be in a primary — currently, it's scheduled for May — to allay the fears of conservative Democrats that a big anti-gay vote in their districts in November will sweep them from office too.
Recall, though, that there will very likely be a hotly contested Republican primary for president next May in North Carolina, and a contested Republican primary for governor, and for lieutenant governor ... and there will be no contested Democratic primaries at all. At least, no statewide Democratic primaries.
In other words, a huge Republican turnout in assured in May, and a very light Democratic turnout is assured unless the pro-gay rights side can produce one.
This is fair? To pass a constitutional amendment when the electorate is skewed so badly in favor or one party and against the other?
Let me be fair and note that, while the specific language of the anti-gay amendment today was new, the basic idea of it — discriminate against gays in matters of marriage and civil unions — isn't new and has been the subject of bills in the General Assembly since 2004 and possibly earlier.
A longstanding Republican complaint when their party was in the minority was that the Democratic leadership wouldn't even give these bills a public hearing.
So this year, with the Republicans in the leadership, how many public hearings did they provide?
The answer is zero.
As usual, House Majority Leader Paul Stam's answer to complaints that the public was shut out of the process was, "They did it too."
They (the Democrats) violated basic fairness when they were in charge, so it's OK for us to violate basic fairness too.
This is an argument?
Not only were there no public hearings ever on this constitutional amendment to discriminate against LGBT citizens prior to today, but when the new version of SB 514 appeared today, it was during a meeting of the House Rules Committee, which entertained no public comment on it whatsoever because, as Committee Co-Chair Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said, "time doesn't permit it."
Not even the usual one or two brief comments from whoever happens to be in the committee room that is so commonly used in the General Assembly as a faux form of public participation — you know, before the majority does whatever it wants to do?
Nope. Because time was of the essence if the House was to finish action on a constitutional amendment — a change to the state's enduring document of government, that is — the same day it was introduced.
As I left the General Assembly, the Senate was due to come back into session at 5, and it wasn't clear that the Senate, too, wouldn't vote on the bill this evening. The only thing stopping it from acting too, I gather, was the absence of two Republicans today. The GOP majority is 31-19, so with no Democrats willing to join them, they need all or all but one of their own members to vote yes.
I gather that at least 30 Republican senators are willing to vote yes, but they didn't have them in the building today, so unless their missing member(s) show up this evening, final passage won't occur before tomorrow.