House overrides Cooper budget veto in surprise move

Roy Cooper - Veto Override

RALEIGH — A half-empty North Carolina House chamber has voted to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state’s two-year budget.

The unexpected vote on Wednesday morning came as dozens of Democrats weren’t on the House floor. Republicans leaders have been trying for over two months to locate enough votes to meet the threshold for an override, largely through winning over enough Democrats. But the same result occurred because Democrats opposed to the budget weren’t at their seats.

“This is a tragedy. This is a travesty of the process and you know it,” Rep. Deb Butler, a New Hanover County Democrat, yelled at Moore just before the vote began. “Mr. Speaker, how dare you, Mr. Speaker.”

Moore told her that he “did not advise that there would be no votes this morning.” Moore’s office provided audio from Tuesday’s floor session from House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis saying recorded votes would occur Wednesday, specifically identifying two different spending measures.

The House budget override vote has been on the daily floor calendar since early July and it was the first bill on Wednesday’s calendar. From time to time the Republican leadership had announced that there would be no recorded votes on certain days. There was nothing in the chamber rules to prevent such action Wednesday.

At a press conference following the vote, House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake) said Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), the House Rules Chairman told him Tuesday that the House would not take votes until Wednesday afternoon. Jackson called the override “cheating” and asked that the vote be recalled.

However, according to Speaker Tim Moore’s office, Lewis explicitly announced on Tuesday that there would be recorded votes in the House on Wednesday. Lewis moved several bills off of the Rules Committee calendar and calendared floor votes on the bills for Wednesday.

From the floor on Tuesday, Lewis said of moving several other bills from his committee, “It will be the chair’s desire to strike the referral to the Committee on Rules and place this bill on the House calendar pursuant to rule 36b for tomorrow.  Is there objection to striking the referral to rules?  Seeing none the referral to the committee on rules calendar and operations of the house is stricken, pursuant to Rule 36b the bill is placed upon the calendar for tomorrow.”

The override isn’t complete — the Senate still must hold a vote on the issue, but Republicans would only need one Democrat there to secure victory.

Wednesday’s vote came as lawmakers have focused this week on redrawing legislative maps following a court ruling striking down dozens of them due to partisan bias.

The House also voted to override a separate Cooper veto, which also succeeded. That funding measure is needed to prepare for the state’s forthcoming shift to a Medicaid managed-care system.