Elimination of judgeship furthers sense of distrust

Words matter.

Actions matter.

Government openness and honesty matter.

A good example of this is the recent decision by the General Assembly to eliminate the Superior Court seat held by Andy Cromer, by far the most experienced of the two superior court judges serving Surry and Stokes counties.

Sarah Stevens, the 90th House District Representative from Mount Airy, was in the secret negotiations that led to the seat’s elimination. As a member of the judicial redistricting committee, and as House Speaker Pro Temore, she was part of the closed-door budget negotiations hammering out this year’s budget.

Stevens said the measure was not aimed at Cromer — a long-time Democrat who this year switched to the GOP — but was a simple budget-cutting measure, eliminating what leaders believe is unnecessary expense.

She explained the move this way: the Administrative Office of Courts has a formula it uses to determine how many judges a given district needs. That formula takes into account the total caseload of a given court district, the types of cases the court generally sees (a capital murder trial takes more time than, say, a DUI), and builds in time for necessary administrative work by the judges.

The formula, she said, clearly shows that Surry and Stokes counties need just one superior court judge. Because the other bench seat is held by Angela Puckett, who is just two years into an eight-year term, and Cromer’s eight-year seat is up for election this year — coupled with the fact that a judge’s seat can’t be eliminated in mid-term — Cromer’s seat had to be the one to go.

Otherwise, according to Stevens, the state will be paying more than $600,000 in unnecessary salary and related expenses over the next six years if it waits until Puckett’s seat is up for re-election.

All of this makes sense. Who isn’t for responsible government spending? Who can oppose cutting those expense? Would anyone really be for spending an extra $600,000 when it’s not necessary?

The problem is, this General Assembly, since the GOP seized control in 2011, along with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory when he was in office, have been notorious for playing political games with statewide appointments, redistricting, undercutting the governor’s authority, in its budgeting … well, in just about everything it does.

To be fair, the Democratic Party has been guilty of the some of the same political gamesmanship when it’s in power. No one is clean in this arena.

But the state’s GOP leadership has done so much in secret over the years, ram-rodded its agenda through the legislative process with little regard for how it might affect the common, average person, completely shutting out anyone, Democrat or Republican, who might simply want to discuss measures, to offer alternatives.

That’s why we say actions and words and government openness matter.

Stevens’ explanation of why this move is being made, about why it’s Cromer’s seat, makes logical sense if taken at face value. And in our dealings with Stevens, we’ve never come across a reason not to take her at face value. But it’s all the actions that have come from the GOP leadership over the past seven years that gives rise to doubt, that makes us wonder if politics really isn’t behind the move.

The way this year’s budget was developed gives rise to further distrust.

The GOP leadership met behind closed doors, hammered out this year’s budget — which included the elimination of Cromer’s seat — then presented the spending plan last week, essentially as a take it or leave it proposal. It was presented in a manner that even prevented additional amendments to the proposal — no room for discussion, questions, revisions. Simply a yes a or no vote.

Many members of the GOP hadn’t even seen the document until it was presented to them for a vote, but they all know, in today’s North Carolina, GOP members say yes to whatever House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger propose, or you may find yourself relegated to the General Assembly custodian committee and out of office in the next election.

No, we can’t specifically point to fact A or point B and as to why the decision to cut Cromer’s seat is a bad move. But we believe it is, simply because the General Assembly’s actions, the words of its leaders over the past seven years, makes us distrust what they do and say today.