I'm going to take Judge Gregory Weeks' advice and triple it. I'm saying no to all six of those ballot questions. The former Fayetteville Superior Court judge, in a piece elsewhere on this page, argues against two proposed constitutional amendments that change the way judicial vacancies are filled and alter the structure of the state's Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. He's right that both are partisan power plays, taking away power from the governor and further politicizing institutions that should be shielded from political pressure.

Weeks has plenty of company in his opposition, including Gov. Roy Cooper, every living former North Carolina governor and hundreds of other distinguished North Carolinians.

But I'm going much farther than that. I'm urging voters to oppose every one of those six proposed amendments to our constitution — even the ones that on their face seem like a good idea. Why? Because the whole bunch of them were conceived in the dark and railroaded onto the ballot with hardly a public peep.

Amending the state's constitution ought to be a difficult thing to do, and it ought to be done for serious reasons. Amendments should be debated at great length and discussed in public forums. There should be public testimony about why they are needed and the measures' opponents should have ample opportunity to testify against them before the General Assembly. Unintended consequences should be fully explored. And then the voters should be informed about the amendments long before Election Day. They should be given clearly written explanations of what the amendments would do and summaries of the arguments for and against them.

Which of those things were actually done? Zero. Zip. Zilch. The amendments were hustled through a last-minute session of the General Assembly and slam-dunked onto the ballot, tricky language and all. At least some of them may pass, and we'll all be poorer for it.

In addition to the measures about judicial appointments and elections and ethics enforcement, there are amendments that would extend victims' rights, protect hunting and fishing, set a lower cap on the state's income tax rate and require voter ID.

Now, who's not in favor of victims' rights, hunting and fishing, paying less taxes and preventing cheating at the polls?

And yet, who's provided evidence that victims' rights are endangered? Why do we need to extend more rights to victims?

And what threats do hunting and fishing face in North Carolina? Is there any viable movement against them?

None of us want to pay higher taxes, but our tax rate is about half of the current 10 percent constitutional cap. What happens if we do cut that to 7 percent and then we get stuck in an extended recession and we're unable to fund our schools, law enforcement and other essential services because of a tax cap? Who's explored that question?

And while I support the concept of voter ID — and so does this newspaper — the devil of a good ID system is in the details. Where are the details on this one? There aren't any. Lawmakers say that if the amendment passes,  they'll reconvene after the election to figure out how it'll work. Can we trust them to do it right? Reminder: This is the same bunch of legislators that jurists all the way up to the  U.S. Supreme Court found trying to unconstitutionally limit the voting rights of minorities and others who aren't likely to vote Republican. You think they won't try to pull the same nonsense with voter ID?  If you believe their motives are pure, I can also make you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge, because you're living proof of what P.T. Barnum said about the birth rate of suckers.

No, it's time to slam on the brakes and tell the General Assembly's leaders that this isn't the way to amend our constitution. We need to demand the kind of openness and free debate that's gone missing from our state legislature for too many years. For what it's worth, the tradition of secret, stealthy, last-minute deals is one of the few truly bipartisan behaviors in Raleigh.

But this time, the voters can demand better from our lawmakers. Just say no to the amendments — every single one of them.

 

Tim White is the Observer’s editorial page editor. Follow him on Twitter @WhatTimSaid. He can be reached at 910-486-3504 or twhite@fayobserver.com. You can discuss this column online by going to fayobserver.com/opinion and clicking on today’s column.