Dishonest. Cowardly. Abuse of power. Orchestrated. Shameless. Profoundly disappointing. Lies.
Those are just some of the words used by state Democratic lawmakers, the Cooper administration and left-leaning state and national advocates in response to the House Republican leadership’s stunning decision Wednesday to conduct two veto override votes when most Democratic members were not on the chamber floor.
Properly noticed. False claims. Extremely credible. Debunked. Lies.
Those are just some of the words used by House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, in his blow-by-blow description for how the House voted 55-15 to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the GOP state budget compromise.
The no votes of six Democrats were not tabulated initially in the chaos of calling for the vote.
Many of the Democratic members not present were in a redistricting caucus meeting
They had been told by Minority leader Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, that he had been informed by Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, that there would be no votes taken in Wednesday’s morning session.
Following Tuesday’s House floor session, Lewis texted a WRAL reporter “no votes 8:30” when asked about Wednesday’s session agenda.
Jackson told The (Raleigh) News & Observer that Republican House members “knew we had been told that there would be no votes at 8:30 in the morning, and they took advantage of that in order to pass their budget override.”
Moore and Lewis stressed there had been no official announcement of a non-voting session Wednesday morning.
“I’ve made it clear,” Moore said. “I’ve said it from right here, on the floor, everywhere: If I see an opportunity to override this budget, this veto, I was gonna take that vote.
“If they didn’t want it to pass, all they have to do is show up for work.”
Which Democratic members did for 37 consecutive House floor sessions that had the veto override vote on the agenda. GOP House leadership did not call for a vote during any of those sessions.
There are 65 Republican and 55 Democratic House members. It would have taken seven Democrats supporting the veto override vote for it to succeed with full attendance
In many instances, there were between 108 and 120 members present during the announced sessions.
Mistrust. Microcosm. Poisoned. Unforgivable.
Those are some of the words being used to try and capture the magnitude of the cracks in the trust foundation within the state House, and perhaps the entire General Assembly.
The controversial House veto override votes are just the latest flash points for a legislature already bruised from partisan sniping in the aftermath of the November 2018 ending of six years of GOP super-majority control of both chambers.
The votes also came as House and Senate redistricting committees are wrapping up drawing a series of new legislative districts in response to current Republican-generated maps being ruled as gerrymandered.
“Today, on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, while the state was honoring first responders, Republicans called a deceptive, surprise override of my budget veto,” Cooper told reporters Wednesday.
What happened instead, Cooper said, is that “the Republican caucus was laying in wait, ready for this” to conduct their veto override votes.
“For two months, Republicans refused to offer a compromise or sit down at a true negotiating table with me. Democrats were told there would be no votes this morning.
“This was a bald-faced lie.”
Left-leaning Progress N.C. Action held a protest Thursday at the legislature that included delivering to Moore’s office a suggested resignation letter as speaker.
“I want a North Carolina that we can be proud of — strong public schools, affordable health care for everyone and clean water,” Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, said at the protest. Butler took a lead role in protesting the veto override vote while it was being conducted.
“Unfortunately, Republicans have developed a scorched earth political ethic for governing. If you can’t win in the court of public opinion, and you can’t win fair and square, you resort to trickery.”
The fractured trust in the state House revived comparisons to recent votes under controversial circumstances.
The foremost example cited by lawmakers, analysts and advocates is how Senate Democrats gained enough votes to pass the state lottery bill in 2005.
For weeks, there were 24 known Senate Democrat votes in support of establishing a state lottery and 26 (five Democrats and all 21 Republicans) against it. The lottery bill passed the House in April 2005 by a 61-59 vote.
Democratic Senate legislative leaders said on Aug. 24, 2005, that its session had come to an end.
However, the next day Democratic House Speaker Jim Black said it could take until next week to adjourn its session.
“Since we’ve been here about seven months, it seems to me that a few more days to make sure we produce as good a product as we possibly can, we do,” Black said at that time.
“There are still some issues that remain unresolved. The lottery hasn’t been voted on in the Senate. I keep hoping they’ll do that.”
Two Republican senators were known to be absent on Aug. 30, 2005. Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, was on his honeymoon, while Sen. John Garwood, R-Wilkes, was in the hospital with a fever caused by an infection.
For years, Garwood opposed a lottery, largely for religious reasons.
But he also became the target of radio ads run by lottery supporters at the N.C. Association of Educators in recent weeks. Garwood said he struggled with his opposition because of the money it would raise for schools.
“I want this thing behind me and behind everybody,” Garwood told the Journal.
“I just feel like, ‘Let it do what it’ll do.’ If it passes, that’s fine with me. And if it doesn’t, that’s fine, too.”
The vote was held Aug. 30, with then-Lt. Gov. Bev. Perdue casting a tie-breaking vote after a 24-24 deadlock.
“Those with long memories will recall that Senate Democratic leaders generated a similar level of distrust in 2005 when they conducted the vote to create a state lottery after telling every member of the Senate — during the open, public conduct of Senate business — that the chamber’s work had been concluded for the year,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.
“Current Senate Republican leaders Phil Berger and Harry Brown certainly remember that incident, since they were on the losing end of that fight.”
Last week, lottery opponent the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, responded to the veto override votes in a what-goes-around-comes-around manner.
“The Democrats’ outrage over the alleged surprise vote overriding Governor Roy Cooper’s veto on the budget doesn’t ring with any moral authority,” Creech said.
“I remember quite well the deceit, the shenanigans employed by Democrats when they were in control of both chambers of the General Assembly and passed a state-operated lottery. The negative impact of that vote, the damage it’s done to the poor and the weakest among us, lives onto this very day.
“The impact of the current budget bill will be fleeting in comparison,” Creech said. “No political party has the moral high-ground here. It’s the way the process often works, and it’s always worse when your side is somehow the victim.”
Former Democratic Sen. Linda Garrou voted in favor the lottery bill.
"There is no comparison to the two situations," Garrou said. "While it was at the end of the session, all of the members were aware of the vote."
"In the Senate, pairing with another senator is permitted. John Garwood and Harry Brown agreed to pair with a senator who would vote yes. The senator would say if senator X was here, he would vote no, I would vote yes."
Brown and Garwood were listed in the Aug. 30, 2005, vote as having excused absences.
Other controversial votes
There’s also the recalling of how former GOP House speaker Thom Tillis, now embattled U.S. senator, in 2012 held a vote at 1:12 a.m. — with five Democratic members absent from the House floor — to override a then-Gov. Perdue veto of a bill that ended the automatic deduction of membership dues to the N.C. Association of Educators.
There’s the session in December 2016 — shortly after Cooper’s election — that was called by Moore and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest without notice shortly after a specially called session to approve state funding for hurricane damage relief.
The second session had been planned by Republican legislative leaders for weeks without informing Democratic leadership.
The Republican super-majority in both chambers passed legislation allowing it to strip Cooper of certain appointment powers on state and county elections boards. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the legislation.
Many of those appointment powers were restored in 2017 and 2018, some only by the Cooper administration winning court decisions.
Then, there’s the special session in March 2016 that produced House Bill 2.
That is the infamous transgender restroom bill that led to a loss of more than $600 million to the state’s economy, and thousands of lost jobs from potential new projects.
Several high-profile entertainment, NCAA and neutral site ACC championship events were pulled from North Carolina, including the NCAA men’s basketball tournament from Greensboro and the ACC football title game from Charlotte.
In a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation between Cooper and Republican leadership — borne of acknowledging HB2’s economic damage — most of the legislation was repealed in March 2017.
End justifies the means?
There’s an element of the-end-justifies-the-means in Moore allowing a veto override vote when there were just enough Democratic members present to meet the 61-member quorum quota, but not to uphold the veto.
The tactic has some Democratic legislators calling for Moore’s resignation as speaker.
Yet, Moore said both he and Lewis “have far too much respect for the North Carolina House and their colleagues to announce no recorded votes, then hold a vote.”
“House Republicans clearly, by their numbers, had no plans to attempt a veto override on Wednesday,” Moore said.
“Republicans did not have enough votes to maintain a majority on the floor if all members were voting and present, with just 55 members.”
Moore said that “any suggestion that Republicans planned the veto override on Wednesday — which is demonstrably false — is an outright lie.”
“The House Republican caucus was genuinely confused and surprised when the Democrats did not arrive for the 8:30 a.m. voting session.”
Cooper’s response to the veto override votes was harshly critical.
He said that having been “elected by unconstitutional means, (it) has used tricks and bullying to starve our public schools and deny health care to a half-million working North Carolinians.”
“For over two months, Democrats missed family events, work, and even medical appointments to show up at every session just in case a veto override was suddenly brought up.
“They also relied on the word of Republican leaders when they were told there would not be votes because that’s how a true Democracy should operate.”
Cooper said that “when you have to use bribes and lies —whether to override a veto or draw your own legislative districts — you are beyond desperate.”
How to move forward
How do legislators regain the trust to move forward?
“Suffering their incredible hypocrisy didn’t start on 9/11/19,” Butler said Friday.
“We have lived with it all day every day since swearing in, so I will be polite, but any jocularity we may have had is unavailable now.
“Trust is earned, and once it is broken it is hard to restore.”
Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Wake Forest, said that “I do not see how trust will be regained any time soon.”
“All bets are off now, and the problem is that bipartisanship will not likely be able to return, which means we could be faced with a completely dysfunctional government in our state for some time to come.”
Madjd-Sadjadi said that “one’s political opponents are not the enemy but (Republicans) have treated the Democrats as if they are.”
“I fully expect the Democrats to act in kind when the tables are turned, but that is not the answer.”
Mitch Kokai, analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said that “trust obviously is strained” as Republican Senate leadership prepares to begin its own veto-override waiting game, likely next week.
“This became clear when multiple Democrats questioned (during Wednesday’s afternoon session) Speaker Tim Moore’s direct promise not to conduct any recorded votes Thursday morning,” Kokai said.
“One suspects that lawmakers are likely to be on guard for the rest of this legislative session against parliamentary maneuvers that appear to run afoul of legislative custom.”
Kokai said the Senate will vote on the budget veto override only when the numbers are in Republican leaders’ favor.
“If they can pick up one Democratic senator’s vote, that could happen relatively quickly,” Kokai said.
“If not, the issue could remain in limbo.”