Disillusionment with the two-party American political system has been around for a long time, but with a polarizing President in the White House and gerrymandered districts that tend to push major party candidates towards more extreme primary election positions, it’s rarely been higher.

“The fastest growing group in North Carolina is neither Democrat nor Republican, but it’s unaffiliated,” said Dr. Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University. “There’s actually more unaffiliated voters than Republicans in the state right now.”

By William Everett • Guest Columnist

Garret Woodward’s Opinion piece “After tragedy in Vegas, where to from here?” (Oct. 4-10) leads us to wider questions about the fragility and peril of our country’s public life. Not only are our fellow citizens dying in mass shootings. Our republic itself is under assault. The integrity of the public arenas that constitute the lifeblood of our republican order is imperiled by the threat and fear of violence, while the fog of lies and a flood of political dark money pollute the reasonable debate at the heart of republican self-governance. The failure of governance through informed and reasonable argument creates a vicious circle of violent speech and violent acts. The freedom of self-governance cannot survive under conditions of violence and the threat of violence. Our freedom as citizens rests not in our possession of guns but in our capacity to engage in a public life of reasonable debate about the common good. Throughout history the collapse of the public life underlying republican governance has created the conditions for despotism, tyranny, and dictatorship. Despots arise who campaign on collective fear and govern by personal greed.

Public prayer in government has long been a contentious issue, but a recent court ruling has North Carolina municipalities scrambling to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law while awaiting the challenges and changes that will inevitably come.

“I think towns that have practices similar to Rowan County will have to keep an eye on how the case progresses,” said William Morgan, Canton’s town attorney for the past three years.

By Martin A. Dyckman • Guest Columnist

Russian paratroopers dropping on the White House lawn could scarcely do more damage to the United States than what the North Carolina Senate called for last week: a convention of the states to tear up the U.S. Constitution. How Donald Trump would love that.

fr chartersAfter months of fundraising, cash is now in hand to get a monument to the country’s founding documents in place at Mark Watson Park in Sylva.

The specter of a constitution has again risen in Cherokee, making its way to committee for the first time in 15 years.

Tribal council last week voted to create a constitutional task force, the second step in a long process that will require discussions, debates and, should it reach the final finish line, a vote by the entire tribe on a document. If approved by the majority of the people, it would forever change their way of governing.

The idea of crafting a self-governing constitution to replace a state-imposed charter for the tribe has been floated on and off for years, at times more seriously than others. It’s always proved too controversial to succeed.

This particular incarnation of the constitutional effort is being spearheaded by Terri Henry, a council member from Painttown just finishing her first term.

Henry is a lawyer who did undergraduate work in political science and international relations, then went on to spend a good chunk of her career in positions with the federal government. Her background qualified her to take the lead.

Each community club representing the six districts of the reservation will nominate two task force members. They will start drafting a document and, most importantly, says Henry, get input from the tribe’s members.

“When you’re talking about something that is as important as a constitutional document, what is really important is that everybody has the same understanding of what the [constitutional] principles are and what the proposed language is,” says Henry.

In that sense, the history of the constitution among the Eastern Band of Cherokee is a double-edged sword for those trying to craft a new document.

The tribe is currently governed under a charter granted by the state of North Carolina. But that hasn’t always been the case. The trail of charters and constitutions is long and complicated. Over the years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has drifted in and out of the process, there was a constitution, then a charter, then perhaps another charter?

But the original constitution, called the Lloyd Welch Constitution, is the one that is most often cited, the one to which tribal members return when making the case for a constitution. It was created by and named for a man named Lloyd Welch in the late 19th century, shortly after the bulk of the Cherokee were routed from their homelands by the Indian Removal Act.

That document, the only constitution the Eastern Band has known, is really a set of three documents that took two years to complete.

“What we learned is that our people have turned to the Lloyd Welch constitution because that was a constitution ordained by the people. When it moved to a charter from the state of North Carolina, that was lost,” said Sarah Sneed, a lawyer who helped with an initial review, the first step in the constitutional process. “I believe that’s why, over the years, people have clung to the Lloyd Welch documents, because the sovereignty of the people was lost.”

But on the other side, there have been at least six tries to get a new constitution OK’d by the people. Every last one was voted down.

The most recent attempt that made it as far as a referendum was a 1996 version.

A few years later, then-council member PeeWee Crowe tried to resurrect the idea with a council resolution. It was passed, but no action was taken.

This time, it seems, advocates are hoping to overcome obstacles that have hamstrung earlier constitutions through education.

The committee will hold regular meetings, broadcast them on the tribe’s public television station and solicit copious input from all sides.

Specific steps are not yet laid out. With the committee not even formed, it’s a little early to define a set path.

But council members seemed hopeful that this time, the tribe would make it further toward clearer branches of government and true sovereignty, led by the people.

There are 595 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and dozens of them have their own constitutions.

“We have a governing document that’s a charter,” said Henry. “It’s important that we have a constitution. This defines us as a self-governing people.”

Jennings Randolph does not leap from the pages of history. Perhaps he should. His likeness is not found on any T-shirts, but perhaps it should be, especially of those graduating from high school.

No, Jennings Randolph was not a founding father, but a 20th century figure. He was a long-time member of Congress from West Virginia, first as a member of the House of Representatives and later a senator. He did something in 1941 that he continued to do methodically for 30 years until he was successful. His photo might be depicted as an example of persistence and/or commitment.

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