Kirk Kovach: Republicans bring eyes of world back to NC with budget override
By Kirk Kovach
On Wednesday morning in the North Carolina General Assembly, most members of the House were not present.
Apparently, one of the Republican leaders told Democratic leaders that there would be no votes in the morning session. That’s what’s known as a skeletal session, where a few members of both parties are in attendance just to get the day started, without any legislation of consequence considered. Multiple reporters who cover the General Assembly were told the same, and there were no cameras on the House floor or any members of the press.
For all everyone knew, there was nothing to see.
That is, for everyone except the Republican leadership.
As they finished the prayer and the business of the day proceeded, a Republican legislator rose to bring the budget veto override to the floor for a vote.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the budget proposal weeks ago, and Republicans have been looking for an opportunity to override it ever since. The rub for them, though, is that 2018 elections narrowed their majorities. Instead of an insurmountable supermajority, the Republicans have simple majorities in both houses, well below the two-thirds needed to override a gubernatorial veto.
But that is only true when every member is present, and on Wednesday barely a dozen Democrats were in the room. Fifty-five Republicans appeared, and before any of the Democrats knew what was occurring, the process was set in motion. Two months of stalemate — and a refusal to negotiate by the majority — ended in a single moment.
Rep. Deb Butler, from Wilmington, vocally opposed the maneuver, railing against the House speaker. But Speaker Tim Moore runs the process, and refused to acknowledge her motions.
He continued reading through her objections.
Rep. Sydney Batch, who has battled cancer and was present for previous overrides despite her frail state, could be seen behind Butler on the floor.
I wrote weeks ago about how unconscionable it was to pull these stunts when a few members were gone; this tactic far exceeds those before.
Democratic leader Darren Jackson told reporters that Rep. David Lewis communicated to him in-person that there would be no votes, and that story seems to be corroborated by a text Lewis exchanged with a WRAL reporter the night before, telling her there would be no votes at 8:30 a.m.
What may be just as likely is that Lewis acted in good faith, and Moore took advantage of an opportunity to sneak through a vote on the most important legislation our representatives consider.
Within hours the story went national. Rachel Maddow shared the News & Observer’s editorial, and the Washington Post had an article around midday.
A News & Observer reporter fielded a call from the BBC, where Brexit is roiling the United Kingdom, and yet they still have time to watch North Carolina mimic their chaos.
All told, two facts are clear: The Republicans were technically able to pull this stunt, based on the rules of the House, and they were entirely wrong to do it.
Legislative tricks like this were commonplace before Democrats broke the supermajority, but now that the minority party has a say, however small in scale, the tricks and underhanded maneuvers are magnified. Whatever good faith may have remained between both parties has surely evaporated now.
The eyes of the world are back upon North Carolina, and as is all too common these days, their gaze is drawn by legislative gimmicks and bad policy for North Carolinians.
Kirk Kovach is from Rowan County and writes for politicsnc.com.
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