State House Republicans held an unexpected vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the proposed state budget on Wednesday morning.
The vote, held minutes after the House opened session at 8:30 a.m., was 55-15. All Democrats present voted against the override, though 39 House Democrats were absent.
“Yesterday was incredibly disappointing. People hate when politicians lie, cheat and steal. I hate when politicians lie, cheat and steal, and that’s what we have this week,” said Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange).
In North Carolina, three-fifths of the House of Representatives must vote in favor of a veto override for it to pass. Had all members of the House been present, the Republicans would have needed seven Democrats to vote with them to override the veto.
There were immediate objections from Democrats in the chamber to the vote, including from N.C. Rep. Deb Butler, D-Brunswick, New Hanover, whose impassioned reaction went viral after N.C. Rep. John Autry, D-Mecklenburg, posted a video online.
“You shall not usurp the process, Mr. Speaker,” Butler said to N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, who was presiding over the session. “How dare you subject this body to trickery.”
N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Caswell, Orange, said he was told Wednesday morning’s session would have no votes. He said he was working in his office when it began and was told to immediately come to the chamber, and he arrived as Moore was closing the vote.
“Yesterday was incredibly disappointing. People hate when politicians lie, cheat and steal. I hate when politicians lie, cheat and steal, and that’s what we have this week,” Meyer said, referring to both the vote and redistricting of electoral districts ruled unfair by the State Supreme Court.
He compared the action to stealing people's votes and voices.
“It’s a pretty horrible situation to be in for our democracy,” he said.
Moore defended the decision and said Republicans had announced on Tuesday there would be recorded votes in Wednesday’s session.
“Today’s veto override of the state budget puts North Carolina one step closer to delivering a historic school construction initiative to benefit education communities across the state,” he said in a blog post.
House Minority Leader N.C. Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said N.C. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and House Rules chairperson told him the previous day that Democrats would be able to caucus at 11 a.m. before any votes would be taken. WRAL reporter Laura Leslie posted a screenshot of a text conversation between herself and Lewis where he said no votes would take place at 8:30.
Jackson clarified during session later in the day he did not think Lewis lied to him and that Lewis believed at the time there would be no votes.
Mitch Kokai, a senior political analyst at the John Locke Foundation, said Republicans have had the budget veto override on the legislative agenda for two months, and the House rules allowed them to keep it there every day. This means Democrats had to attend any voting session to prevent Republicans from overriding the veto.
“The debate about whether this was something that was above or below board, hinges on whether David Lewis purposely misled the Democratic leader about what was going to happen at 8:30,” Kokai said.
Wednesday’s events were the latest in a long and contentious process of state political leaders attempting to pass a budget. The Senate must now vote on the override, where Republicans are one vote shy of the majority required for a veto override.
Suzy Khachaturyan, a policy analyst at the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center, said state leaders need to find a compromise because the lack of progress on the budget hurts state programs that rely on one-time funding.
“We would love for both chambers and the executive branch to come to the table and see this process issue is really an issue for North Carolina, and our ability as a state to thrive, so we hope that this is another signal of the need for true compromise,” Khachaturyan said.
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