NATIONAL NEWS

North Carolina lawmaker signals party switch with big impact

Apr 4, 2023, 4:27 PM

FILE - State Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, speaks on the House floor as North Carolina lawmake...

FILE - State Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, speaks on the House floor as North Carolina lawmakers gather for a special session on March 23, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. Speculation is brewing in North Carolina that Cotham may change her party affiliation. Republicans have scheduled a news conference Wednesday, April 5, 2023, with Cotham, of Mecklenburg County. If Cotham does switch parties, the move would give the GOP complete veto-proof control of the General Assembly and hand Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper a major political setback. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Speculation is rising in the North Carolina legislature that a Democrat is about to switch parties and give Republicans a complete veto-proof majority in the General Assembly, a move that could affect legislation on immigration, abortion and voting.

The GOP scheduled a Wednesday news conference at party headquarters with Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County. House Speaker Tim Moore said Tuesday that Cotham and chamber leaders will “make a major announcement.”

If the Democrat does switch parties, it would be a major political setback for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and allies in their attempts to block conservative initiatives during the governor’s final two years in office.

It could make it easier for Republicans to enact bills that would force sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration agents and prevent counting absentee ballots received after Election Day. The GOP is also debating if and how to place further restrictions on abortion.

While Republicans already hold the 30 Senate seats needed to override vetoes, they have been one seat shy of a similar advantage in the House since the November elections. Cooper made preventing supermajorities his top campaign priority last fall.

Cotham, a former teacher and assistant principal, served in the House for nearly 10 years through 2016 before returning in January.

She sat at a new desk surrounded by Republicans on the House floor for the late Tuesday afternoon session. Staff members earlier took her belongings from her previous desk, which had adjoined those of other veteran House Democratics.

Cotham left after the floor session ended without taking reporters’ questions and didn’t respond to a text message. Her Twitter account “liked” a post that welcomed her to the House GOP caucus.

Moore declined comment Tuesday when asked whether Cotham was switching parties. Cotham’s voter registration information on the State Board of Elections website late Tuesday listed her as a Democrat.

Republicans have been advancing legislation this year that in previous years Cooper successfully vetoed. Until now, the governor has had enough Democratic votes to uphold vetoes if the party members showed up and voted together.

Last week, the Legislature successfully overrode one of Cooper’s vetoes for the first time since 2018 and approved a bill that in part eliminated the state’s pistol permit purchase system. Cooper has stopped short of vetoing three other bills this year on topics that he vetoed in 2021. He didn’t sign this year’s measures, but rather allowed them to become law without his signature.

Cotham was one of three House Democrats who were absent last week during the override votes on the gun bill. The absences meant Republicans were able to meet the three-fifths majority threshold necessary to complete the override and advance their agenda.

Cotham said later that day that while she didn’t support the permit repeal, she had informed both parties she would be absent for the vote, citing a scheduled hospital treatment. She and other absent Democrats took criticism for what happened, leading at least one liberal-leaning group to announce plans to “hold them accountable” in 2024.

News of Cotham’s potential party switch led some Democratic leaders to call on her to resign from the House instead, saying voters elected her based on her support as a Democrat for abortion rights, public education and civil rights. It’s unclear whether her views have changed.

Separately, Cooper said Cotham’s apparent party switch was a “disappointing decision.”

Her votes on “women’s reproductive freedom, election laws, LGBTQ rights and strong public schools will determine the direction of the state we love,” Cooper said in a news release.

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North Carolina lawmaker signals party switch with big impact