Even with a veto-proof majority, North Carolina’s Republicans have become known for their hardball political tactics.
Some of it gets a little disturbing. But much of it is petty, some of it is gamesmanship — and some if it is even a little funny. Just in 2018, the state GOP has:
- Gutted an old bill to keep the budget in secret.
- Partitioned the city of Asheville into districts to give a Republican a shot at a council seat.
- Waited until the last day of the session to reject Gov. Roy Cooper appointments made more than a year earlier.
- Rushed to pass a new bill to slightly tweak the state Board of Elections after courts struck down old an old law as unconstitutional.
If it’s legal, available and technically within the rules, Republicans in the General Assembly have been willing to do it for a bit of political advantage.
Are North Carolina Democrats finally learning to do the same?
You could make that argument after the filing period for state judicial candidates came to a close.
To set the scene: This year, all judicial races are partisan but there are no party primaries1. Whichever candidate gets the most votes, wins.
This means that Republican candidates could get more votes and still lose the seat2.
The highest-profile judicial race is for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Incumbent Barbara Jackson (a Republican) is up for re-election. Anita Earls, a civil rights attorney from Durham, has long been in the race as a Democrat.
Polls show support for Earls and Jackson neck and neck — so even a few votes siphoned off to a third candidate could make a big difference.
And that’s just what happened. At the last minute, a second Republican entered the race.
So where did this second Republican candidate come from?
Chris Anglin is a 32-year-old Raleigh attorney who until last month was a registered Democrat.
He told WRAL that nobody from the Democratic Party or from Earls’ campaign approached him and asked him to run. That could very well be true. Anglin has only voted twice in North Carolina — in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. There’s no record of him being active in Wake County politics.
But he knows exactly what he’s doing. His is a candidacy in protest of the Republican Party, not to represent it.
“I’m running as a Republican to give a voice to the many Constitutional Republicans who are appalled at the assault on the rule of law, and the checks and balances of our Constitutional Republic that is happening on a federal and state level every day,” he writes on his campaign Facebook page.
Will he make an impact?
I believe he will.
Anglin’s candidacy probably won’t trick many people into voting for him. The people who vote in judicial elections generally are pretty well-informed, and they’ll likely know about the hardball politics that got him on the ballot.
But we’ve heard from numerous judges in North Carolina who are not too pleased with how the General Assembly has jerked them around over the past two years — even some judges who formerly aligned with Republicans. Anglin could wind up with enough protest votes from the legal community to tip the election.
The bigger impact, however, could be in emboldening the North Carolina Democratic Party.
For the last half-decade, the state’s Democrats have mostly whined impotently about political trickery committed by their opponents. That message hasn’t resonated with voters.
With a high-stakes election this fall, N.C. Democratic Party chairman Wayne Goodwin and his legal team have to be scouring obscure rules and laws to see what tactics they could try.
They might have an opportunity soon.
North Carolina voters will be considering six constitutional amendment changes on their ballot this fall.
[Longleaf story: 6 N.C. constitutional amendments you will vote on in 2018, ranked]
The General Assembly writes the text of the amendment change to be voted on. You can read it in the bills approved this past session.
But legislative expert Gerry Cohen brought up a little-known committee3 created in the early 1980s that is tasked with writing 6- to 10-word captions summarizing each amendment. These captions appear on the ballot to introduce that section.
Who makes up this committee? The Secretary of State, state attorney general, and the Legislative Services Officer.
You guessed it. Two of these three are currently Democrats.
Though they are constrained by law to accurately and concisely summarize the amendments, they presumably will be able to write them in a way that will minimize their chances of passing.
We at Longleaf Politics don’t get too worked up about political hardball.
It’s an inevitable and traditional part of politics. These games don’t amount to stealing elections or fundamentally undermining our faith in democracy.
And certainly, nobody is crying for Republicans here. They’ve tried to influence this Supreme Court race in plenty of ways — including making sure Earls name appears last on the ballot and dispatching operatives to recruit more Democratic candidates for the race.
All that said, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
I’ll make the optimistic case. Perhaps all of this political maneuvering will lead toward a consensus that loopholes need to be closed, power distributed equitably and opportunities for abuse ended.