SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Why Political Columnists Can Grow Cynical
Then something happens to bring me back to my senses: The rest of the world just isn't cynical enough.
One of those moments of clarity hit a few weeks ago when the state House approved a measure that would bar local governments from using condemnation proceedings for economic development purposes.
I knew that several House members, especially among the backbench Republican crowd, wanted more than a just a rewrite of state statutes. After all, a simple change of statute by one legislature can easily be undone by a future legislature.
After last year's landmark Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, only an amendment to the state constitution would truly bar state or local government from any future property seizures in the name of economic development.
Still, the House took up a bill to ban the practice in statute. After an overwhelming vote in favor, I approached some of the chamber's Republicans to inquire about why they hadn't attempted to amend the legislation to include a constitutional amendment.
Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, a Wake County Republican, smiled and said it was coming. He had a bill calling for a constitutional change. More than 80 of his House colleagues had signed on.
He was confident.
I failed to ask him why in the world he believed that House leaders would pursue what amounts to a superfluous change of statute if a constitutional amendment was in the works.
Oh, cynical me.
Fast-forward a few weeks: A House judiciary committee sends Stam's amendment bill off to a subcommittee for more "study," a sure indicator that someone high up on the legislative food chain doesn't like it. Then, without any subcommittee action, the committee dumps it in the House Rules Committee.
"To me, that sounds like sudden death, and they are going to throw it in the well," says Rep. George Holmes, R-Yadkin, another supporter.
Of course, documenting the legislation's path to bill purgatory doesn't explain why a constitutional change, which appears to enjoy plenty of support among the public, hasn't flown through the legislature.
Among the possible explanations:
-- The North Carolina League of Municipalities doesn't like it, fearing that a debate over a constitutional amendment may open up the state's current condemnation procedures to further tightening. And once tightened in the constitution, reversing the change would be next to impossible.
-- A constitutional amendment would have to be approved by voters. Democrats control the legislature, and they worry that putting the measure on the ballot will energize conservatives and pump up their turnout at the polls.
Some people might say those explanations represent a pretty cynical view of the legislature.
Yes, guilty as charged.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com
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