Phil Berger announced he would not call a veto override vote without at least 24 hours’ notice. He says, “There should be no question that should the budget override vote come up, that every member of the Senate has been told publicly that they have a choice to make — be here and vote or not.” Berger’s statement is essentially a rebuke of Speaker Tim Moore and the House leadership. 

Moore infamously called a surprise vote on the budget veto override while Democrats were under the impression that no votes would be taken during the session. While the Speaker and his lieutenants claim they never told Democrats there would be no votes, Minority Leader Darren Jackson and other House Democrats feel they were deceived. Whether it was a misunderstanding or an ambush, relations between House Democrats and Republicans have been additionally strained because of the incident.

Berger’s statement basically says, “I would not do anything like that because it’s not good government and not in good faith.” Say what you will about Berger, and I’ve said a lot over the years, but he has a respect for the legislative process that Moore and his cronies lack. He can be as ruthless as any politician in Raleigh and yet he’s got a sense of integrity. Despite almost a decade of control, the Senate leadership has largely avoided the hubris that defines House leaders like David Lewis or the petty scandals that have plagued Tim Moore. 

The episode further defines the differences in the two Republican leaders. Moore is a dealmaker who will cut ethical corners to get the best outcome for either himself or his caucus. He’s in politics both for the game and personal gain. Berger is an ideologue who will stand on principle even if it might hurt his cause in the long term. He’s in politics to try to undo 75 years of progressive governance, but like his predecessor Marc Basnight, he holds respect for the institution he leads.

I don’t know what the two men say privately, but Berger just publicly criticized the Speaker’s leadership without calling out his name. That’s no reason Democrats should embrace Berger or his agenda, but it shows character that should be respected off the playing field. 

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