In his engaging and mercifully short book, Wait, What?, James E. Ryan, president of the University of Virginia, insists there are only five essential questions in life. Ryan details how using these questions allows us to engage folks whose opinions may be different from ours in ways that preserve decorum and honor civility.
One of Ryan’s five questions has particular relevance as we celebrate Independence Day. It starts, “Couldn’t we at least…?” Ryan suggests it’s a way for passionate advocates to find common ground — to “get unstuck.”
And so we say to Republicans across the aisle (or down the road from our headquarters in Bolivia), “Couldn’t we at least agree unfettered democracy and freedom must continue to be the agents that bind us?”
Sadly, the answer from the MAGA-dominated GOP is a resounding “No!”
In a time when more Americans are demanding that politicians set aside party affiliations and work for the good of the country, MAGA Republicans in Washington and Raleigh are doing all they can to aggrandize their power and address the demands of their vocal, radical minorities. In Washington, the uncompromising, unrealistic views of the House Freedom Caucus almost derailed legislation that members of both parties ultimately supported. The turmoil continued with useless debates on proposals to impeach the president and investigate his son, and a successful attempt to bypass normal procedures in the House that brought the chamber to a grinding halt for four days.
In Raleigh, MAGA Republicans are busily writing bills to dramatically aggrandize their power in the legislature, limiting voting rights for all citizens, denying women the right to reproductive freedom, weakening public education, and more.
But perhaps the most egregious example of the MAGA Republican effort to end democracy as we know it in North Carolina — and all 50 states — was the effort to seek approval from the U.S. Supreme Court for a radical theory declaring state legislatures as the sole authority in all matters concerning elections — including gerrymandering.
The so-called “Independent State Legislature Theory” advocated no judicial oversight, no executive authority, and ultimately, no will of the people. Only an untethered state legislature could determine whether to accept or reject the will of the public in a presidential or any other matter governing elections.
Fortunately, SCOTUS took a dim view of Speaker Moore’s despotic electoral philosophy, voting by 6-3 to reject the North Carolina position in the Moore v. Harper case. Democracy prevailed.
Abha Khanna, a civil rights attorney who successfully represented Black voters in an earlier Supreme Court decision on gerrymandering in Alabama, praised the decision. “In its most extreme form, the Independent State Legislature Theory could have weakened the foundation of our democracy, removing a crucial check on state legislatures and making it easier for rogue legislators to enact policies that suppress voters and subvert elections without adequate oversight from state courts,” she said. “We are incredibly relieved that the Supreme Court decisively rejected this dangerous theory.”
But imagine for a moment the Supreme Court had approved NC House Speaker Tim Moore’s view of democracy. If North Carolina voters approve a second term for Joe Biden in 2024, Moore and his allies could have pulled the rug out from under the voters, declared the results invalid, and substituted their own slate of pro-GOP Electoral College delegates — all without judicial oversight or constitutional authority.
This decisive victory for voting rights in North Carolina doesn’t solve all the issues facing democracy in our state. Still ahead is a difficult battle on gerrymandering. Should a decision by the legislature on the redrawing of state voting maps be appealed, plaintiffs face a conservative state Supreme Court that has already ruled in favor of the GOP on the same issue.
Also on the legislative calendar is a bill reducing the number of members serving on county Boards of Election from five to four, with ties going to the General Assembly for resolution. Once again, Speaker Moore and his cronies are fighting to control your vote.
It is long past time for the MAGA Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly and the GOP-controlled House of Representatives to reject their party’s extreme wing and put country first. We need to seek solutions to the issues that face us which are fair and reflective of the majority of voters.
And so, we ask: “Couldn’t we at least agree to sit down and discuss our differences in the hope we can find solutions that promote well-being and help everyone?”