Since June, Republicans in the North Carolina House have been searching for the votes necessary to override Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of the state’s budget. Republicans hold 65 of the chambers 120 seats but need the backing of two-thirds of state representatives for a veto override.
The Republicans failed to attract the necessary support. So they decided to cheat.
Wednesday morning, the House voted to override Cooper’s veto of the budget. The vote was 55 to 9. Where was everyone? Republican leadership told Democrats there would be no votes in the morning session. Some Democrats had left the chamber to attend a memorial for the victims of 9/11.
Democrats in the chamber objected to the bill being brought up, saying they were told there would be no votes during the 8:30 a.m. session and that it was just a formality so work could begin. Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, made the motion to reconsider the state budget and chaos in the chamber quickly ensued.
…House Democratic leader Darren Jackson, of Wake County, said he told his caucus that they did not need to be at the morning session because Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, told him there would be no recorded votes.
Jackson was not at the 8:30 a.m. session. There were just 12 Democrats, and they did not all have a chance to vote, they told reporters. Jackson said that microphones were cut off.
“How dare you, Mr. Speaker? The trickery that is being evidenced by this morning is tantamount to a criminal offense,” Representative Deb Butler, one of the few Democrats present, said. Butler said that she was threatened with arrest for making objections, a claim which Republicans denied.
This budget is a big deal in North Carolina and will govern state spending for the next two years. One reason why Cooper vetoed the budget is that it failed to “expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income working adults.” Cooper also objected to a business tax cut that he said was unnecessary, as well as the failure to provide a stable source of funding for school construction.
“Overall, this budget is bad. It prioritizes the wrong things. It values corporate tax breaks over classrooms, gimmicks over guaranteed school construction and political ideology over people,” Cooper said in June when he vetoed the budget.
Republicans control the North Carolina House and Senate, but do not have a two-thirds majority in either chamber. That left Republicans with two legitimate options.
1. Convince some Democrats to support their budget and vote to override Cooper’s veto.
2. Work with Cooper on passing a compromise budget that he would not veto.
House Republicans chose a third path: trick the Democrats into not showing up and then quickly hold a vote.
The gambit worked for Republicans in the North Carolina House. But to actually override the veto, Republicans also need a two-thirds vote in the Senate. That is a significantly easier task because Republicans already have a 29 to 21 majority in the Senate. If they can convince just one Democrat to vote with them, they will have the votes to override Cooper’s veto.
Republicans managed to pry away a Democrat in the North Carolina Senate to override Cooper’s veto of abortion legislation. (That veto override, however, failed in the North Carolina House.) Alternatively, Republicans could wait until a couple of Democratic Senators are unable to show up.
Major news outlets are decrying yesterday morning’s move by state House Republicans to override Gov. Cooper’s budget veto in an unannounced vote with nearly half of the body’s members absent.
Raleigh’s News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer call it “a shameless theft of democracy”:
Not only was the House vote dishonest, it was carried out by a Republican majority that courts have repeatedly found to have gained seats through illegal gerrymandering. It was an illegitimate majority acting in an unethical way. These Republicans may be incapable of shame, but North Carolinians should be outraged. First by gerrymandering and now by a high-handed vote, something new has been taken from them. It’s called democracy.
The Wilmington Star-News called it “a sad day for cherished principles of democracy”:
This is not about conservative principles. This is an unprincipled power grab and a slap in the face to the North Carolinians who have seen Republicans try to disenfranchise them in the voting booth, in the districts they are placed in, and now by essentially nullifying their elected representatives’ voice in Raleigh. Is that really what the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan has come to — absolute contempt for trying to follow the will of the people?
Meanwhile, a Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com called on Triangle-area Republican senators to do the honorable thing. Here’s the conclusion:
Now, consideration of the vetoes moves to the state Senate.
There is the opportunity for the senators – regardless of political party or position on the budget – to restore the honesty and trust in the legislative process destroyed by the House.
Senators must stand up for integrity in the General Assembly. Republican John Alexander who represents Wake County, along with Jim Burgin, Rick Horner and Brent Jackson who represent portions of Johnston County – need to vote to send the two bills back to the House. Tell the House it will take up the bills ONLY AFTER there has been an open and honest debate and vote involving all the representatives.
If the Senate overrides the veto, it accepts the tactics of the House and partners in the deception. It is legislators’ obligation to act fairly, openly and honestly. That is not too much to expect from the legislature.
Alexander, Burgin, Horner and Jackson — Time to step up!
The only reason why Republicans control the North Carolina legislature is that they illegally gerrymandered the state legislative districts.
Under the gerrymandered maps, Republican state Senate candidates “won a minority— 49.5%—of the two-party statewide vote, but still won 29 of 50 seats (58%).” GOP state House candidates “won a minority—48.8%— of the two-party statewide vote, but still won 65 of 120 seats (54%).”
In a decision issued last week, a three-judge panel found that the legislative maps put into place in 2017 “do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting.” Republicans in North Carolina, in other words, have perverted the democratic process, empowering Republican powerbrokers at the expense of voters.
Now, the legislature must draw new maps under the supervision of the court. But Republicans are still trying to game the system.
Under the court ruling, the legislature “must produce districts with equal population, contiguity, and compactness, taking care not to unduly carve up precincts and cities.” And they must do so in public, so the process can be scrutinized.
North Carolina Republicans, instead of attempting to draw new maps in a transparent way, are using maps created by Jowei Chen, a political scientist who was called as an expert by the plaintiffs in the court case. Chen created two sets of maps. First, he ran a simulation and, using non-partisan districting criteria, created 1,000 potential maps. Then, he ran the same simulation and created 1,000 maps that used non-partisan criteria but tried to protect incumbents by avoiding placing two in the same district.
The point of this second simulation was not to create potential maps for the North Carolina legislature to use. The point was to show that the purpose of the actual maps put into place was to specifically elect more Republicans, not just protect incumbents regardless of party. Indeed, Chen testified that these potential maps did produce more seats for Republicans than the other set but did not show “the same extreme level of Republican bias” as the existing maps.
Maps explicitly designed to protect incumbents elected by illegally gerrymandered maps perpetuate the problem. Here is how Chen explained it:
As this slate of incumbents is heavily Republican and was elected from previous versions of North Carolina’s House districts, an attempt to protect all incumbents would, in general, encourage the drawing of a plan with districts somewhat similar to the pre-enacted districts from which these incumbents had been previously elected, thus indirectly distorting the partisan distribution of voters across districts.
North Carolina Republicans are falsely claiming this second set of maps produced by Chen were “approved by the court” and are using them as a baseline to redraw legislative districts. In an odd spectacle on Tuesday night, Republicans selected five maps from Chen’s “incumbent protection” simulation and then brought in lottery officials to make the final selection. Each map was assigned a ball, and a lottery machine picked the winning map at random.
If the court does not accept the legislature’s procedures, it could end up drawing the maps itself.