RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – A sitting North Carolina state representative, who was elected as a Democrat, is leaving the party and becoming a Republican, a move that grants the GOP the outright legislative supermajority needed to override vetos from the governor’s office.
Rep. Tricia Cotham, who represents a Democrat-dominant district in Mecklenburg County, announced her switch on Wednesday. North Carolina House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore, Senate President pro tempore Phil Berger and others joined her and welcomed her to the party and the Republican caucus.
Cotham said the “modern-day Democratic party has become unrecognizable to me and others across the state.”
She switched parties to escape the pressure she said she faced to vote with the Democratic caucus, declaring, “I will not be controlled by anyone.”
The representative said Democrats have been “blasting me on Twitter to calling me names, coming after my family, coming after my children. That is wrong.” She said that a woman cussed her out at a store while she was shopping with her son.
The turning point for Cotham, she said, was when she says she received criticism for using the American flag and praying hands emoji on social media and on her vehicles.
Absent for vote to override veto of pistol permit repeal
Cotham was one of the three Democrats who were absent last week when the North Carolina House narrowly overrode a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper apparently is switching to the Republican party.
Cotham was absent last week, along with Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-High Point) and Rep. Michael Ray (D-Halifax), on Wednesday morning when the House in a 71-46 vote overrode the veto of Senate Bill 41, which removed some pistol permitting processes.
The Senate, with a supermajority of Republicans, had overridden the veto the day before, but if all three Democrats had shown up and voted with their caucus, Cooper’s veto would’ve been upheld.
Cotham said she was at a scheduled appointment for treatment for “long COVID.” Brockman said he was at urgent care. Wray never gave a reason for his absence.
But all three had drawn the ire of House Democratic Leader Robert Reives (D-Chatham) under threats of primary opponents in the 2024 election.
The balance of power
But as Axios Raleigh first reported, Cotham’s move removes the last brick of balance in state government. The Republicans would have 72 votes, which is the required three-fifths of the 120 members of the House, giving them a supermajority as they have in the Senate.
If the caucus holds together – and it historically has – then Republicans can override any veto by Cooper on any bill, whether it’s related to abortion rights, school budgets, election laws or any of the issues to which you might guess a Democrat would object.
They also can have unfiltered control of electoral redistricting with the highest state courts now controlled by the GOP, too.
State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), the House majority whip, said he was “unable to comment at this time” when asked about Cotham’s move Tuesday. Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro), Reives’ deputy in the House, didn’t respond immediately to a text message.
A request for comment from state Democratic leadership also failed to get an immediate response. But new Chair Anderson Clayton went on Twitter to make strong comments and call for Cotham to resign.
“Tricia Cotham’s decision to switch parties is a betrayal to the people in HD-112 with repercussions not only for her district, but the entire state of North Carolina,” Clayton said. “She no longer represents the values constituents trusted her to champion, and should resign immediately.”
Clayton and Mecklenburg County Democratic Party Chair Jane Whitley released a joint statement Tuesday. Clayton and Whitley said, “This is deceit of the highest order. Rep. Cotham’s decision is a betrayal to the people of HD-112 with repercussions not only for the people of her district, but for the entire state of North Carolina. If she can no longer represent the values her constituents trusted her to champion, she should resign immediately.”
Cotham received nearly 59.22% of nearly 26,000 votes cast in 2022 to beat Republican Tony Long to return to the House, which she had served 2009-2015. She ran for Congress in the 12th Congressional District in 2016 but finished third in a primary won handily by incumbent Rep. Alma Adams (D-Charlotte).
Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations for the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, a voting rights group, issued a statement: “Tomorrow Tricia Cotham is going to lie to the voters in House District 112 and claim a political party betrayed her and gave her no other choice. However, Tricia is the one committing an act of betrayal and that is to the voters who fulfilled their civic duty to vote, and chose to vote for her.
“Turncoat Tricia needs to have the courage of her convictions and resign and let the people who elected her make a worthy replacement that represents the values they voted for in November.”
Brockman told The News & Observer in Raleigh that Democrats can only blame themselves and he didn’t blame her “one bit.” He said he, Cotham and Wray had been criticized heavily.
“I think she just wanted to do what’s best for her district and when you’re constantly talked about and trashed — especially the way that we have been over the past few weeks — I think this is what happens,” Brockman told The News & Observer.
“I hope the (Democratic) party takes a strong look at how they react to people making the decisions that they make — they put themselves in this position.”
Cotham told Bryan Anderson of the Anderson Alerts blog that “people don’t care about facts. … They will be cruel. … They are now attacking my family and children.”
Cotham didn’t vote on the passage of SB 41 (she was absent) on third reading, but Brockman had voted against the bill and Wray for it. Brockman, Cotham and Wray had joined Republicans earlier last week in voting for House Bill 10, which requires sheriffs to work with ICE. If that bill makes it through the Senate, Cooper likely would veto the measure, as well, but he has let two other bills become laws without his signature because he didn’t like them but didn’t expect a veto could be upheld even before Cotham’s move.
He also on Tuesday expressed his dissatisfaction with the budget bill the House is expected to take up Wednesday and Thursday.