Democratic State Rep. Tricia Cotham joined House and Senate GOP leaders at the North Carolina GOP headquarters the morning of April 5 to announce that she is switching parties to become a member of the House Republican caucus. News of Cotham’s decision provoked divergent reactions from each party, with Republicans celebrating the move and Democrats calling for her resignation and accusing her of betraying her constituents. 

Cotham’s party switch will have major ramifications for state politics. Republicans now have a supermajority in both chambers, which will make it next to impossible for Democrats to uphold Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes going forward. House Republicans now control 72 of the chamber’s 120 seats — the exact number needed to override vetoes when all members are voting. Republicans came out of November’s election winning an outright supermajority in the Senate, but fell one seat short in the House, which is what makes Cotham’s decision so consequential.

Cooper issued a statement on the Cotham news April 4: “This is a disappointing decision. Rep. Cotham’s votes on women’s reproductive freedom, election laws, LGBTQ rights and strong public schools will determine the direction of the state we love. It’s hard to believe she would abandon these long held principles and she should still vote the way she has always said she would vote when these issues arise, regardless of party affiliation.” 

House Minority Leader Robert Reives, acknowledging Cotham’s decision on Tuesday, called on her to resign. Reives said Cotham had campaigned as a Democrat and someone who supported abortion rights, health care, public education, gun safety and civil rights, and that voters in her district “elected her to serve as that person and overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.” 

GOP secures supermajority to advance agenda

Republicans set their sights on a supermajority during last year’s election and vowed to win total legislative control. They planned to resurrect bills Cooper had vetoed in the past and pursue an agenda that Democrats wouldn’t be able to block. Among other things, that has included bills to increase penalties for rioting, to require sheriffs to cooperate with ICE, and most recently, to repeal the state’s permit law for buying handguns.

That last bill, Senate Bill 41, was a package of gun rights measures. The inclusion of the repeal of the pistol purchase permit law — which had been a priority for Republicans, and which was strongly opposed by Democrats — made the bill a key issue for both parties to battle over early in the session.

The bill passed both chambers, but was vetoed by Cooper. The governor’s decision was met by a promise from Republicans to hold “swift” override votes, and within three days the legislature had successfully circumvented Cooper, completing its first veto override since 2018. House Republicans’ success came down to absences from three Democrats: Cotham, who said she had a previously scheduled medical appointment related to her recovery from long COVID, as well as Reps. Michael Wray (whose office said he had a family emergency) and Cecil Brockman (whose office said he had been in urgent care during the vote).

Per agreement, this story has been edited for space limitations. It appears here courtesy of our media partner The Charlotte Observer.

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