by Becki Gray
Former Senior Vice President, John Locke Foundation
When is an election not really an election? When you can change it on a whim. Imagine if you would that, unhappy with some decisions made by a majority on a County Commission someone decided to just add additional seats to change the balance of power and decisions made by that duly elected body. Surely you can’t do that, right?
The Cabarrus County Commission currently consists of five commissioners, elected to four year staggered terms. They are all Republicans. All were duly elected by the voters of Cabarrus County. Three of them have been voting for, among other things cutting spending and eliminating incentives. We’ll call them the fiscal conservatives. The remaining two commissioners have voted against these initiatives. We’ll call them the establishment Republicans. Some folks in Cabarrus County are unhappy with decisions made by the current majority of fiscal conservatives.
The fiscal conservatives, Larry Burage and Chris Measmer, were elected to their current seats in 2010; Jason Oesterreich was appointed in August of 2013. Although they lost their primaries, all three will serve out their current terms until the new Commission is sworn in December 2014.
In the primary election, the three fiscal conservatives were defeated by establishment candidates. They have no Democratic opposition in November but must still stand for election in November. Following the election the new commissioners will be sworn in and begin to serve their four year term.
Well, maybe not if a bill being pushed by Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus) passes in House tonight. Sen. Hartsell amended House Bill 1218, to reshuffle the deck on the Cabarrus County Commission. His bill would create two new seats on the Commission and would be filled by establishment candidates Diane Honeycutt and Grace Mynatt, two of the three primary winners. With the addition of Honeycutt and Mynatt, the Commission goes from a five member body with three fiscal conservatives and two establishment members to a seven member body with four establishment members and three fiscal conservatives members. The change would be effective immediately through the first Monday in December, when the newly elected commissioners are sworn in.
What changes the balance and negates the election of 2010, is the change Senator Hartsell proposes. With two new seats added and specifically handed to primary winners and members of the establishment team, Diane Honeycutt and Grace Mynatt change the balance of the commission. Adding the two additional seats is effective only until the new Commission is sworn in and obviously an effort to stop any actions the current five board commission might do. As one of the establishment primary winners said on election night, “We still may have issues because they get to approve the 2015 budget,”
The current commission gets to approve the budget and legitimately make other decisions until their term is up = the term they were elected to. Democracy means free fair and regular elections. We may not always agree with what our elected officials are doing today but that just means we get to elect new officials at the next election. And barring some egregious and illegal activity, it doesn’t mean we get to change the results of an election in the middle of a term. The point is not which viewpoint you agree with or not, the point is elections (and that includes the full term of an election) matter. Under a democracy and under our constitution, you can’t just suspend an election.
Grace Mynatt said on primary election night, “I’m back in the saddle and I’m ready to go. It’s going to be difficult to wait until December,” Sorry, Ms. Mynatt, your term doesn’t begin quite yet. You’ll just have to wait. Unless Sen. Hartsell can convince the General Assembly that elections in North Carolina don’t mean much.
By the way, Sen. Hartsell’s proposal passed the NC Senate last Thursday 37-8. See his amendment to House Bill 1218 here It’s first up on the House calendar tonight. If it gets a concurrence vote, it goes into effect immediately.