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Legislators need to stop micromanaging local affairs

StateLegislature

North Carolina's legislative building on Jones Street in Raleigh.

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

There are some, who after winning election to the General Assembly and crossing the threshold of the Legislative Building in Raleigh believe they’ve been transformed.

They acquire knowledge and insight beyond that of the hoi polloi.

That must be the only reason for the continued to raft of unsolicited bills forcing local governments around the state to change the way they elect town boards, city councils or county commissioners. Nearly every one of these bills has been introduced without any request or input from the local governments or voters affected.

Legislation has forced reshaped districts — often gerrymandered to help Republicans or imposed partisan political party labels on previously nonpartisan elections — particularly for city councils and school boards.

Local governments in Asheville, Greensboro and Wake County have already had to battle these unnecessary laws in state and federal courts to block the undesired and unnecessary intrusion.

What is it that makes legislators in Raleigh know voters want changes they haven’t even imagined?

This legislative session has been no different. Two Republican legislators from Forsyth County — Donny Lambeth and Debra Conrad — filed legislation that would shove three Winston-Salem city council members into a single district. All three are black, all are Democrats and all are women. Local Democrats and Republicans say they weren’t aware of the proposals before they were filed.

Every election in the state — from school board on up — would be partisan under a bill from Republicans Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County, George Cleveland of Onslow County; Keith Kidwell of Beaufort County and Michael Speciale of Craven County.

“Let’s face it. All elections are, in fact, partisan. As much as people want to tell you there’s a bipartisan or non-partisan election most folks understand that the candidate they’re voting for is either Republican or Democrat,” Kidwell, a first-term legislator, told the Washington Daily News.

Really? For some reason the people who vote in North Carolina don’t line up quite the same way. Latest voter registration numbers show more voters are unaffiliated (2.11 million or 32 percent) than are Republicans (1.99 million or 30 percent). The 2.46 million Democrats account for 37 percent of the state’s registered voters while the remainder are affiliated with the Green and Libertarian parties.

In 2013, a couple of election cycles ago at the behest of former state Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, the county’s school board elections were switched from nonpartisan to partisan.

Today, a bipartisan group of Guilford legislators joined together to switch back to nonpartisan. Wade, by the way, was defeated for re-election last fall by Democrat Michael Garrett.

These unwanted and unnecessary intrusions into local matters result in costly and distracting legal battles.

Rather than seeking ways to unnecessarily expand and impose their will on local governments, legislators should be extending and expanding the ability of local governments — where elected representatives are closest to those they govern — to act directly.

Moving toward home rule — giving local government MORE authority — should be the default these days. If any legislators doubt if that’s the popular will — just ask FORMER state Sen. Trudy Wade.

November 2020 isn’t too far off.

Capitol Broadcasting Company

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