Today in the North Carolina General Assembly, most members of the House were not present. Apparently, Representative David Lewis had told Democratic leaders that there would be no votes this morning. Multiple reporters who cover the NCGA were told the same, and there were no cameras on the House floor or reporters present during the vote. For all everyone knew, there was nothing there to see.
That is, for everyone except the Republican leadership.
As the prayer was completed and the normal proceedings began, a Republican legislator made a motion to bring the budget to the floor for a vote. Governor Cooper vetoed the budget proposal weeks ago, and Republicans have been looking for an opportunity to override that veto. The rub for them, though, is that 2018 elections narrowed their majorities. Instead of an insurmountable supermajority, the Republicans have simple majorities in both houses, well below the needed threshold to override a gubernatorial veto.
That is, when every member is present.
But today, every member was not present. In fact, only about a dozen Democrats were on the floor when the budget override was brought to a vote. On the Republican side, 55 of their members were present. The vote passed easily, 55-9, putting to an end the months of stalemate in a single minute.
Representative Deb Butler vocally opposed the maneuver, railing against the Speaker. But the Speaker controls the rules and he continued reading through her objections. Representative Sydney Batch, who has battled cancer and was present at earlier overrides despite her sickness, could be seen behind Butler on the floor of the House.
Today’s vote is two things: shocking and typical.
The Democratic leader, Darren Jackson, told reporters that Rep. Lewis had told him in person that there would be no votes. Todd Barlow, counsel for House Dems, emailed a schedule to Democrats last night listing 8:30 as a no vote session. At some point, either there was a miscommunication or an outright fabrication. If a Republican legislator is the source for every reporter believing there wouldn’t be votes, it seems that it must be the latter.
Rep. Lewis texted a WRAL reporter last night that there would be no votes at 8:30 this morning; that ended up being untrue. It seems beyond coincidence that the same error was told to Rep. Jackson as well.
Given that the story has quickly gone viral, there needs to be a clear accounting of the process that led to Democrats being caught unawares.
Granted, this situation is still unfolding. Speaker Moore wrapped up a press conference where he told reporters that “The override vote was my decision, and I stand by it. I think it was the right thing to do.”
This goes back to a point I made in a column earlier this year, involving the antics we saw in earlier veto overrides. Here’s the thing: this isn’t why representatives are elected. It’s in the word itself, represent. The North Carolinians who elected Democrats were not at the table for this budget veto. It was done in bad faith, obviously, and when given the opportunity to rectify it by rescinding the vote, Republicans again doubled down.
The vote today only calcified the partisan divisions in our state, at a time when they have never been sharper.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.