RALEIGH In an otherwise slow start to the legislative week state lawmakers took an extended break over the Easter holiday, returning Wednesday two bills sit on the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper present a tricky problem of political calculus. Cooper has criticized both House Bill 239 and Senate Bill 68 as politically motivated power grabs by the Republican dominated General Assembly, but he may be considering if vetoes of the bills are the best use of his political capital when accounting for the likelihood of veto-overrides.”This is going to be one of the ongoing calculations that Roy Cooper is going to have to make between now and the next legislative elections,” predicted Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. “And that is: How often do I use the veto stamp with the strong likelihood that the veto would be overridden, versus how many times do I let something go into law with out my signature and issue some strongly worded statement of being against it, and how many times do I try to work with the General Assembly and come up with some sort of fix or alternative that might be more amenable.”House Bill 239 would reduce the N.C. Court of Appeals to 12 judges from its current 15 members. Republicans view the bill as good policy, while Democrats claim it is an attempt to limit the governor’s influence. The governor has appointment powers for vacant seats and three judges will reach retirement age in the next few years.”Judicial branch statistics indicate that over the last decade, the caseload before the North Carolina Court of Appeals has decreased,” said Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly), the primary sponsor of H.B. 239. “The number of filings, trials and dispositions they consider have reached levels similar to those prior to the court being packed for political purposes in 2000. House Bill 239 also allows the Court of Appeals to share its caseload with the state Supreme Court. As the same judicial branch reports and statistics indicate, the Supreme Court does not have a significant workload and this reform seeks to equalize the burden on both.”The Cooper administration came out swinging against the bill upon its passage, with Cooper communications director Sadie Weiner issuing an aggressive statement.”The Republican effort to reduce the number of judges on the Court of Appeals should be called out for exactly what it is: their latest power-grab, aimed at exerting partisan influence over the judicial branch and laying the groundwork for future court-packing,” said Weiner.Senate Bill 68 is an adjusted attempt to reform the State Board of Elections after a court ruled the original law violated the separation of power clause of the N.C. Constitution.”In this bill we have addressed the concerns of the three-judge panel and this is no longer a separation of powers issue as the court ruled because we’ve given the executive branch the power to appoint members of the board,” said House Rules Chairman Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) when presenting the refashioned bill. “Also we have acknowledged and overcome the concern the court raised about the operation of the board by requiring only a simple majority of the board to take action on all routine matters pertaining to the administration of elections.”Predictably, Cooper opposes the adjusted bill after having sued the legislature over the original bill.”Their first attempt to gain control of elections boards through a law passed in December was recently found unconstitutional. And now the legislature is at it again, simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Cooper in a written statement.If 10 days pass after legislation is presented to the governor, it becomes law without his signature, making Friday the deadline for action of some kind.While both bills passed with solid majorities, each fell just short of veto-proof vote tallies, leaving a possible opening for political wrangling.”If he thought that there was a chance the a veto would hold, he probably would have issued the vetoes already,” said Kokai. “Perhaps one of the other complicating factors at this point is that he and his team may be talking with members of the General Assembly to see if there is anyone who voted for this bill the first time around who might be inclined to hold out for a veto override vote.”While vote whipping on both sides may be taking place in earnest before Friday, Kokai believes the governor could still score political points while letting one the bills become law.”If for some reason he didn’t want to have to see an override, he might still let [H.B. 239] go into effect without his signature and issue some statement complaining about the General Assembly and changing the court system without consulting members of the court,” said Kokai. “It’s possible that he could get his points across without having to issue a veto.”As for the board of elections reform, Kokai believes Cooper has an option to allow the bill to become law while arranging for yet another legal challenge to its constitutionality.One thing is for sure the clock is ticking and a decision will made by Friday.
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