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'Deceit of the highest order': NC Democrats say they feel betrayed after Cotham switches parties

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N.C. Democratic Party Chairperson Anderson Clayton speaks at a press conference on April 5, 2023, calling Rep. Tricia Cotham (R-Mecklenburg) to resign from office after switching to the Republican Party.

Only a few hours after N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham (R-Mecklenburg) officially announced her departure from the Democratic party on Wednesday, the North Carolina Democratic Party held a press conference outside its headquarters where speakers urged Cotham to resign her office.

The change gives Republicans a supermajority in the North Carolina House of Representatives, which the party already held in the North Carolina Senate. With both, the state’s Republican representatives now have the ability to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. 

The press conference was led by Anderson Clayton, the chairperson of the N.C. Democratic Party. 

About 50 supporters stood behind the speakers’ podium, most holding posters that said, “RESIGN,” which were handed out inside the building before the event began. 

“We are here to stand up for the people of House District 112 and the North Carolinians across the state who are fearful of what may come next,” Clayton said in her opening remarks. “Rep. Cotham’s decision to switch parties is a deceit of the highest order.”

Clayton said Cotham's switch is a problem because of how it affects issues — not politics. She added that voting rights, reproductive rights and public schools are on the line if Cotham does not resign. 

It is also a problem of trust, Clayton said.

“This is about the constituents that trusted Rep. Cotham to champion their values, who are now left with little reassurance that she would do that,” she said. “It's a 60 percent Democratic district, y’all — they would not choose to elect a Republican.”

She also pointed out contradictions between how Cotham campaigned and where the representative is placing her support now.

“Tricia Cotham campaigned on protecting reproductive freedoms, and is now seemingly open to new abortion restrictions,” Clayton said. “She campaigned on protecting LGBTQ rights, and today stood beside Congressman Dan Bishop, the father of H.B. 2 in our state.”

Two other speakers addressed attendees during the event. 

Cameron Pruette, the chairperson of the LGBTQ+ Democrats of Mecklenburg County, spoke immediately after Clayton. He also mentioned Cotham’s interaction with Bishop, whom he called “no friend of the LGBTQ community.”

Pruette questioned how long Cotham had been planning to switch parties and characterized the change as a betrayal of trust.

“It is ironic to me that in the middle of Holy Week, when we're about to discuss Judas trading away people for pieces of silver, what did Tricia Cotham trade away for my community?” Pruette said. “What did Tricia Cotham trade away for her voters?”

He also pointed out that Cotham voted just over a week ago in support of a House bill that would require sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, which he said was a vote “against her voters.” 

“We deserve better,” Pruette said. “And if she can't vote with our values, she must resign.”

The next speaker was Elizabeth Goodwin, the president of Democratic Women for North Carolina. 

Goodwin said Cotham’s switch meant she would be working with people whose values conflicted with ideas she had worked toward before, like a higher minimum wage, equitable funding for schools and expanded voting rights.

It also meant she would be working with Republicans in the N.C. House of Representatives who recently introduced a new bill that, if passed, would ban abortions beginning at conception, except in rare circumstances.

“It's a cruel bill, a bill that takes away women's control over their own bodies, lives and futures,” Goodwin said. “It's a bill creating restrictions that eight years ago, Cotham would have — and did — passionately advocate against.”

Goodwin emphasized that she hopes Cotham’s vote on the issue “is not up for political grabs.” 

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Clayton briefly took questions at the end of the press conference. As the official event ended, a member of the crowd behind the podium began a call-and-response chant.

“Who should resign?” he shouted.

“Tricia Cotham!” the crowd responded.

Criss Berke, a sophomore at N.C. State University who attended the event, said she is from Mecklenburg County. When she voted for the first time in 2022, she said she voted for Cotham. 

Berke said she felt Cotham will no longer be protecting the values of communities that supported her.

“It’s definitely very surreal,” she said. “I do definitely feel betrayed and lied to.”

@emilycgajda

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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