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ANALYSIS: NC Lt. Gov. Forest oversteps authority on Convention of States

Where does the lieutenant governor find his authority to appoint delegates to an organization of volunteers, the Assembly of State Legislatures, which is not apart of our government structure under the U.S. Constitution?

A previous post questioned the one-sided series of “town hall style events” in North Carolina that NC Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest is holding on a Convention of States (COS).

Now there are questions about the process that the lieutenant governor used to further the calling of a Convention of States, and how the process was presented to the audience at the Greensboro, NC town hall on Oct. 28, 2014.

Dan Forest Screen Shot 2The lieutenant governor said he believes that through the years the federal government has taken over such a large role of governance that it has really pushed the states to the side.

In his opening remarks, he emphasized the importance of maintaining the balance of power our Founders provided, not only in the horizontal—the three branches of the federal government—but in the vertical—the state government and local governments keeping a check on the federal government.

Lt. Gov. Forest said, “So we are here today to talk about: What was that process that the Founding Father’s believed in?  What does the Constitution really say about the separation of powers in America?”

He emphasized repeatedly that this is an “educational process.” He reassured the audience that “obviously, North Carolina wouldn’t get involved in anything that didn’t have a clear process outlined before we got going.”

In closing the meeting, he remarked, “There are a lot of people who are fearful of the (COS) process. We’ll continue to educate people and bring them along.”

Did the Lt. Governor Have the Right to Appoint Delegates?

Before keynote speaker Dr. Michael Farris, a major promoter for the Convention of States Project (COSP), gave his talk, NC Representative Bert Jones of Rockingham County spoke briefly about his experience as a delegate to Indianapolis, IN this past summer (June 12-13, 2014). The Indianapolis meeting was a follow-up meeting to the Mount Vernon, VA meeting (Dec. 7, 2013).

A “steering committee” invitation to all 50 states resulted in attendance by 100 legislators from 32 states. They met at the historical home of George Washington for the sole purpose of discussing a Convention of States.

Rep. Jones said, “Then we had a meeting in the summer back in Indianapolis and Lt. Gov. Forest sent myself and (Representative) Chris Millis. We were there to represent North Carolina. At that meeting we (the Mount Vernon Assembly) became the Assembly of State Legislatures (ASL).”

Rep. Jones also used the word “process.” He stated, “The purpose of that meeting was to discuss a bit more about the process. We didn’t talk about particular amendments which would be offered at such a convention – or anything like that. But the process.

Reps. Jones and Millis were at the ad hoc meeting in Indianapolis to write the rules for a Convention of States “process” to stop federal overreach. In so doing, they missed casting a vote in the NC House chamber on an important amendment to a bill presented by Rep. Michael Speciale to stop an increase of federal power in North Carolina.

For details, see Nicole Revels’ report at Pundit House.

This brings us back to the question of “process,” especially as it applies to the North Carolina State Constitution. Rep. Jones told the audience that Lt. Gov. Forest appointed him and Rep. Millis as delegates to the Indianapolis meeting. Do these appointments fall within the constitutional duties of the NC Lieutenant Governor?

The NC Constitution states:

Sec. 6.  Duties of the Lieutenant Governor.

The Lieutenant Governor shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote unless the Senate is equally divided. He shall perform such additional duties as the General Assembly or the Governor may assign to him. He shall receive the compensation and allowances prescribed by law.

Office of the Lieutenant Governor is housed in Hawkins-Hartness House in Raleigh

Office of the Lieutenant Governor is housed in Hawkins-Hartness House in Raleigh

If one interprets Section 6 correctly, the NC lieutenant governor is in the executive branch and also in the legislative branch. But his role in the legislative branch is limited. He presides over the Senate and breaks tie votes. He has no other part to play in the North Carolina Senate.

He can be assigned activities by the legislative branch or by the governor, for example to serve on boards and commissions. But it would really be a breach of ethics for the legislative branch to call on him to participate in pro-convention strategies when the constitution allows the lieutenant governor no part to play in the amending process.

Even Dr. Farris stated in his educational talk to the audience in Greensboro that the governors and lieutenant governors of the states have no role to play in the Article V amending process.

Moreover, under legitimate circumstances, NC House members are appointed by the NC House speaker. At the Greensboro town hall meeting, when asked under what authority he appointed Reps. Jones and Millis to go to Indianapolis, Forest replied, “I am the President of the Senate.”

If Lt. Gov. Forest’s appointment of the delegates was made under his authority in the legislative branch as the president of the Senate, where in the NC Constitution does it empower the president of the Senate to appoint NC House Representatives to anything? They are not state senators, they serve in the NC House of Representatives.

Is the Lt. Governor Stretching the Meaning of ‘Educational’?

Lt. Gov. Forest also repeatedly used the word “educational” at these town halls. Yes, the lieutenant governor is constitutionally placed on the NC State Board of Education and has other duties associated with education through the executive branch. But does an “educational seminar” on the COS at a grassroots town hall meeting have anything to do with the formal NC state education boards he is involved with at the executive level? Is it wordplay?

It is noteworthy that the ASL website states, “Through this process the states will naturally begin discussions on possible solutions, but it is only prudent to begin with putting rules and procedures in place that bring transparent integrity to the process that was specifically left to the states by our founders.”

If “transparent integrity” in the process is a mission statement that both the ASL and the lieutenant governor respect, he should welcome the opportunity to give the North Carolina people a clear and transparent statement regarding the integrity of the appointive process he used to send delegates from the NC House of Representatives to the ASL Indianapolis meeting.

The Convention of States could drastically change the U.S. Constitution as we know it. It would be incongruous for Lt. Gov. Forest and Reps. Jones and Millis to blur the lines between the separated branches in North Carolina government in order to correct the blurred lines between the separated branches of the federal government.

North Carolina’s elected state officials must be as meticulous about obeying the North Carolina Constitution as they are about obeying the U.S. Constitution. Otherwise, how could the people of North Carolina possibly trust them with the potentially risky venture of the Convention of States?

Featured image from Shutterstock; Image of Lt. Gov.’s Office from website; Image of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest from screenshot of video.

Wynne Coleman

Wynne is an activist and researcher in support of the U.S. Constitution. She assists her husband in teaching a free 12-week Consitution course. Since 1992, she has been exposing the dangers of Agenda 21-Sustainable Development and other issues that undermine the U.S. Constitution. She was appointed by the Wake County Commissioners to represent the Wake County Taxpayers Association on the Wake County Sustainability Task Force in 2010-2011.

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