In a move that shocked the world early last Wednesday morning, a narrow quorum of the state House voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the anti-environment state budget. The vote occurred just after 8:30 a.m., almost exactly 18 years to the day after planes struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Immediately after the Pledge of Allegiance and opening prayer, Speaker Tim Moore called a vote, and didn’t allow anyone to speak in debate, possibly against the rules of the House. The vote was 55-15 to override.
This trickery came during a housekeeping session which Democratic legislators had been told would include no votes on legislation. Because of that, 40 Democrats were attending to other business, and six of those who were there weren’t yet even in their seats. That’s how quickly legislative leadership pulled the wool over their eyes.
The party-line override by ambush generated fury among Democratic legislators and nonpartisan observers alike, and accusations by the governor that the majority party leadership engaged in “a bald-faced lie” to trick minority-party legislators out of attending the session.
As well as Democratic leaders, House Rules Committee chairman David Lewis had told at least one reporter the previous night that there would be no votes in the morning session, so there were no reporters or TV cameras in the chamber at the time. The only visual records of what transpired came from a legislative assistant in the gallery and a now viral cell phone video by state Rep. John Autry as Rep. Deb Butler lit into Speaker Moore for his underhanded “leadership.” Editorialists expressed outrage because of this, and WRAL reporter Laura Leslie published a text which confirmed Lewis and Moore misled her too.
Butler, Autry, Gov. Cooper, and others have appeared on national cable news programs in the days following, and the day’s actions have received notice and commentary in print, TV, and online news outlets all over the world.
House Republican leaders remained several votes short of enough support to override the veto had all legislators been present. Democratic legislators had attended each announced session at which the override could have been attempted for months, in order to block the potential override vote. House Republican leaders refused to negotiate with the governor over the terms of the budget.
Environmental advocates oppose the vetoed budget because of its bad environmental provisions, including:
- A failure to fund the needed efforts to understand and control toxic PFAS contamination (e.g., GenX) and other “emerging contaminants” in drinking water
- Blocking important new pollution controls on factory hog farms and other concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
The Senate must also still override the veto before the budget can become law. As in the House, there are enough opposition votes in the Senate to block an override if all are present and Democrats stick with the governor.
Observers expect all those senators to be present for each session going forward, regardless of whether votes are formally scheduled. It seems likely that it will be a long time before Democratic legislators in North Carolina will trust the word of their Republican colleagues’ leadership again.