GOP veto override leaves questions about Democrat tactics

Democrats protested but might have missed parliamentary opportunity to stop the vote to override Gov. Cooper’s budget veto

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Members of the North Carolina House of Representatives at the General Assembly (Christine T. Nguyen | The North State Journal)

RALEIGH — Following Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of the state’s budget, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) made it clear that if a veto override opportunity presented itself, he would take it. And on September 11, Moore did just that.

The House overrode the governor’s veto over objections from Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover), who claimed it was announced the day prior that the morning session would have “no votes.”

That assertion would be repeated later by Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) and reported by media outlets. However, Jackson confirmed at a press conference that his “staff sent out a notice to my caucus telling them that were having some planning meetings this morning; we were having a meeting at 8 o’clock to prepare for House Finance at 9, we were having a House Democrat redistricting meeting at 9 to prepare for redistricting at 10.”

When asked in an interview on Sept. 16, Rep. Butler stood by her claim that no votes were to be taken at the morning session and she rejected the idea that there had been some kind of miscommunication.

“No, we were lied to and told there would be no votes in the morning session,” Butler told North State Journal. “The chairman of the Rules Committee told our leader that very clearly and also texted it to Laura Leslie.”

WRAL published text messages between Rules Committee Chair Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and WRAL reporter Laura Leslie which appear to show Lewis responding to Leslie’s question of whether the house would have a voting session at 8:30 on Wednesday with “No votes at 830.”

Just over half of the House was in attendance on Sept. 11 — 55 Republicans and 15 Democrats, including Butler. Thirty-nine Democrats were marked as not voting. Democratic members who were in attendance included nine-term Rep. Becky Carney (D-Meck.) and four-term Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley (D-Wake) and nine freshman Democrats.

Another part of the veto override that gained attention were claims made by Butler regarding map drawing.

“We are downstairs right now trying to redraw partisan heavy voting maps,” said Rep. Butler during her protest of the vote on the House Floor.

When asked to clarify those remarks, Butler told North State Journal that she had been referring to the redistricting committee, adding that committee is “comprised of a majority of Republicans.”

Butler said that the attention paid to her remarks about redrawing maps was a sign of “desperation” and “is the perfect example of gaslighting.”

“Those are the jokers who have been proven to have drawn illegally gerrymandered voting districts and they would dare point a finger at me?” said Butler. “That is just laughable.”

Democrats also accused Speaker Moore of pre-planning the override vote, which Moore dismissed, noting that there were not enough Republicans to hold a majority on the floor.

Some General Assembly watchers, including former Representatives, have theorized that if some of the Democrats walked out on the override vote, the chamber would have been deprived of a quorum.

“We lost that vote because we didn’t know the rules,” Rep. Billy Richardson (D-Cumberland) said in an interview on 640 AM WFNC. Richardson was among the Democrats absent from the floor on Sept. 11.

An attempt to recall the override vote from the Senate was made, but the motion failed.

“I think the Dems wanted another bite at the apple on a rollcall vote. It would have taken 6 R’s to vote with them to pass the motion,” said Gerry Cohen, former general counsel at the General Assembly.

Had the recall attempt been successful, the next step would have been to reconsider the bill back on the House floor. House rules on the Motion to Reconsider state that “only a member of the prevailing side may move for reconsideration.” None of the Democrats had voted for the override, so a reconsideration likely would have gone nowhere.

Within hours of the override, national media outlets were reporting that Republicans had used 9/11 to advance the override. The Washington Post article cited Governor Cooper, who said he and “House members” been attending a 9/11 event when the override happened.

Only one House member has been confirmed to have attended such an event.

The Governor’s office has not responded to requests by North State Journal to furnish a list of those who attended the 9/11 service with the Governor.

The state Senate has not yet calendared the budget bill for a potential veto override.

About A.P. Dillon 53 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_