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N.C. politicians, advocates reflect on impacts of 2023 Republican supermajority

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The N.C. General Assembly sits in Raleigh.

In early April, N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham (R-Mecklenburg) announced she was changing her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, just a few months after she was sworn in. 

After the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans in the N.C. House fell one seat short of a supermajority. But, Cotham’s partisan switch secured a supermajority for Republicans and allowed them to override any of Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes.

Cotham’s new alignment, though not the first partisan switch in North Carolina's history, garnered national attention and shifted the politics of the state.

The Democratic leader of the House, N.C. Rep. Robert Reives (D-Chatham, Randolph) said, while he still has a good working relationship with Cotham, he felt like her constituency had a right to know how she felt before she switched.

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of people who are in leadership, especially here in North Carolina, want people not to trust government,” Reives said. “And so when you already have a distrust of government, when something like that happens, it does feel like to people who vote, that they've not had a chance to have their voices get heard.”

Cotham did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Tar Heel.

In May, after Cotham's switch, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 20 over Cooper's veto, creating a new state-wide 12-week abortion ban.

Jane Pinsky, the director of the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform with Common Cause North Carolina, said  Republicans' new ability to override the gubernatorial veto essentially takes minority party representatives and the executive branch out of the governing process.

“It makes a mockery of the idea of a two-part legislative system,” Pinsky said. 

Reives said the veto-proof majority held by Republicans made the North Carolina legislature the most powerful state legislature in the country and eliminated any separation of powers at the state level.

This newfound governing power in the hands of the legislature props up the speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate to be two of the most influential people in the state, rather than statewide elected officials, Reives said.

Neither N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland, Rutherford) nor N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Guilford, Rockingham) responded to a request for comment by The Daily Tar Heel.

In addition to the more visible actions taken by the General Assembly in 2023, UNC School of Law Professor Rick Su said many of the things pushed through under the supermajority in the past year could have major implications moving forward, even though they haven't garnered much media attention yet.

“Where the action is happening is actually the parts that most people don't ever pay attention to because it's relatively invisible, and that's on the administrative side,” he said. 

Su said the increased appointment power held by the legislature after changes made this year could change gearing up for the 2024 election.

N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person) said his most significant achievement of the year was was the inclusion of Medicaid expansion in the state budget, which he said had been in the works for about 10 years.

Meyer said, though he believes Medicaid expansion was a big win for the state, it was often difficult to find even small wins.

“Really one of the more difficult parts of this year for me, as someone who's been there for 10 years and a lot of different sizes of Republican majorities, always a Republican majority, but just different configurations of it, they were particularly brutal this year in what they proposed and passed,” Meyer said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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