Why hunting and fishing rights are on the ballot in North Carolina

Ted Vaden
Ted Vaden

Thank goodness the lawmakers in Raleigh have stepped in to protect our hunting and fishing rights.

“The right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife is a valued part of the state’s heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good.” That’s the language of a proposed addition to the North Carolina Constitution that we the citizens get to vote on in November, thanks to the Republican majority of the General Assembly.

Didn’t know that your hunting and fishing rights were threatened? Neither did I, and I am an avid fisherman and occasional hunter. It is one of six proposed amendments that we’ll see on the Nov. 6 ballot providing safeguards — locked into the state Constitution — that many of us did not know we need. Or want.

The hunting amendment, while unnecessary, is relatively innocuous. But the other five have consequential effects on voting rights, balance of powers, judiciary independence and income taxes. Early indications are that they will be easily enshrined in the state Constitution, even though few of us know much about the changes or the impact on our rights.

Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning polling organization based in North Carolina, found in a recent poll that all the amendments have strong support among North Carolina voters.

An amendment to require citizens to present a photo ID to vote is favored 65 percent and opposed by 25 percent, with the rest undecided. Another that would shift appointment authority for state boards and commissions from the governor to the legislature is supported by 56 percent to 11 percent. An amendment removing the governor’s power to fill judicial vacancies between elections is favored 68 percent to 11 percent.

Why would voters so readily countenance such drastic shifts in the balance of powers between the legislative and executive branches?

Because, says the poll’s director, Tom Jensen, the language of the amendments deliberately disguises their intent.

Thus, the amendment taking appointment power away from the governor is described as a change “to clarify the appointment authority of the legislative and judicial branches.” It never even mentions the governor.

“When you read it, of course people say they’re going to support this,” Jensen said. “How could you be against what that sounds like?”

Jensen spoke recently in Chapel Hill to Neighbors on Call, a citizens action group seeking to mobilize people to the polls to vote against the amendments and overturn the Republican majority in the legislature.

On the face of it, Jensen’s news for the group was not encouraging. Noting that Republicans have controlled the legislature since 2011, “If you had asked me in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and most of 2017, what are the chances that Democrats could take control of the House, I would have told you every single one of those years that it’s a big fat zero,” he said. “Now, I’ll tell you it’s like 10 percent.”

Not great odds, but Jensen told the group that Democrats in 2018 have more of a path to electoral success than in the past. One question on his poll asked voters “if there were an election for the state legislature today, would you vote for the Republican or Democrat from your district.” Democrats beat out Republicans by 5 percentage points on that question. In 2016, Republicans were ahead by 2 points.

But, Jensen points out, Republican gerrymandering of legislative districts gives Republicans such an advantage in individual legislative districts that it would take a margin of 12 or 13 points statewide for Democrats to gain a legislative majority.

Despite the numbers, Jensen’s message was that a huge get-out-the-vote effort by Democrats could overcome the odds. That’s because of what he described as “a dynamic of educated suburban voters voting against Republicans because they’re disgusted with (President Donald) Trump.” He said that dynamic, plus signs of a national “blue wave” of Democrats ousting Republicans, could result in as many as 22 legislative seats in North Carolina flipping from Republican to Democrat.

“I can’t think of an election where grassroots energy like the energy in this room,” he told the overflow crowd at the Chapel Hill Public Library, “could be so important to determining who wins and who loses, and what causes succeed and what causes fail.”

Which gets us back to the hunting/fishing protection amendment. Why is it even on the ballot?

Some discern the hand of the National Rifle Association, which supported the amendment in the legislature and provided financial backing. Others see a scheme by Republicans to load the ballot with unnecessary initiatives – an income tax ceiling, protections for crime victims, and the hunting/fishing safeguard — to draw conservatives to the polls to vote for Republican legislative candidates.

As Jensen points out, the swing voter will make all the difference in this election, for both Republicans and Democrats.

“Our swing voter in 2018 is not swinging between Trump voter to the Democrats,” he told the citizen group. “It’s swinging someone who would otherwise not vote in a midterm election to voting in a midterm election.”

Ted Vaden is a retired newspaper editor living in Chapel Hill. He can be reached at tedvaden@gmail.com.

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