The “part-time” legislature’s 2019 session technically isn’t even over. Legislators will come back January 14, 2020, for some unfinished business. The session has dragged on for months after its usual midsummer end because legislative leaders could not find the votes to override Gov. Cooper’s veto of their anti-environment budget. So they kept the budget override on the calendar day after day, waiting for enough minority party members to be absent so that they would have the required three-fifths of members present to override that veto. That moment almost never came.
On September 11, with 40 of Democrats’ 55 members absent, and nearly all Republican members in their seats first thing in the morning, Speaker Moore opened session, and following the usual prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, quickly called a vote to override the governor’s budget veto. It passed along party lines. The House had overridden the veto, and the ball was now in the Senate’s court.
Why were almost all the Democrats missing? Because the night before, Republican leaders had told them and the media that there would be no votes the morning of September 11. Tired of waiting, leadership engineered a ruse. They lied to voters.
In the session’s most dramatic moment, environmental champion Rep. Deb Butler rose from her seat, grabbed her microphone, and began protesting Speaker Moore’s assault on our democracy. Moore cut off her microphone, so she grabbed her seatmate’s mic. “I will not yield!” she yelled, as several representatives crowded around her to prevent the Sergeant at Arms from removing her from the chamber.
North Carolina found itself in the news for the wrong reasons yet again. In 2018, voters had elected more members of Gov. Cooper’s party to help him lead the state back in the right direction. Ignoring that, Moore and company remain bent on thwarting voters’ will to retain power at any cost. But Butler’s voice was heard around the world, and her war cry lit a spark in the pro-conservation, pro-democracy movement as we head into 2020.
Luckily, Senate Democrats held #21Strong, and Republican leaders gave up trying to override the veto there.
This attack on our democratic process is an example of the extremes inherent with districts that are so gerrymandered — where extreme partisan ideology overtakes legitimate debate without moderation. We are hopeful that, in the future, more competitive legislative districts will restore democracy and voters’ faith in their leaders.