When Richard Burr, one of the two U.S. Senators from North Carolina, stood to declare “guilty” on the article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump, voters on both sides were stunned. After all, he had publicly expressed before the trial started that he believed it was unconstitutional to impeach a president who was no longer in office.
His opinion on the constitutionality of the trial led many to assume he would stay within party lines and vote “not guilty” on impeachment. Burr, however, changed course during the trial, defending his guilty vote by stating, “the President bears responsibility for these tragic events. The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection...Therefore, I have voted to convict.”
Representing his true feelings, Burr pointed the finger at Trump in the aftermath of the insurrection.
The backlash came hard from North Carolina Republicans. On Thursday, Orange County Republicans banned the longtime senator from their headquarters and future activities. The NCGOP officially censured Sen. Burr, stating they were “very concerned and disappointed” with the votes.
While the NCGOP and Republicans across the nation have every right to be disappointed with their elected officials, censuring Burr sets a dangerous precedent. By censuring the senator, the NCGOP actively discourages bipartisan actions by our elected officials. If our representatives have to vote in fear of being ousted for their bipartisanship, we sacrifice the country for the party.
Discouraging bipartisanship is discouraging democracy. Just this month, the NCGOP slammed state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Jackson for voting against a bipartisan school reopening bill. Yet they discourage this action from their own parties’ senators when they vote in a bipartisan manner. The censure displays their abandonment of North Carolina voters, who vote to be represented by our senators, not our state's parties.
Richard Burr’s and Thom Tillis’ votes were fair. They, as our elected senators, were sent to Washington to represent the citizens of North Carolina and to vote their conscience — even if that means breaking party lines.
If we, as voters, disagree with our senator's actions, then we get the opportunity to vote against them next time they are up for reelection. That’s the beautiful process of democracy in action (and luckily for the NCGOP’s sake, Richard Burr has already stated he will not run for reelection in 2022 — giving them a clean slate to pick their own Republican candidate).
Through censuring, the party acts in a totalitarian manner, demanding unparalleled loyalty or threatening punishment.
As a purple state with two Republican senators, North Carolina can appreciate the diversity of thought that was displayed. Another example is Utah, which also had two Republican senators split their vote. The state’s GOP, which Donald Trump won by 21 points, put out a statement that read: “The differences between our own Utah Republicans showcase a diversity of thought, in contrast to the danger of a party fixated on 'unanimity of thought.'”
North Carolina had the opportunity to display the same sentiment. However, in a state where Donald Trump won by one point and almost 60 percent of North Carolinians wanted to see the former president convicted, our GOP failed us. No matter who the NCGOP fields for the Senate seat in 2022, it is going to be an uphill battle.
As a divided state in a divided nation, the NCGOP had the perfect opportunity to exhibit unity. They continue to shackle themselves to Trump instead of their own citizens. By continuing to sell us out to one man, they defy their voters.
Whether Burr was right or wrong, that’s for the voters to decide — an elected trustee should not be shunned for voting their conscience. Going forward, we must continue to hold both parties accountable for discouraging bipartisan behavior.
After all, that is how we will see progress — real progress — made.
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