Politics & Government

At morning-after protest, Rep. Butler talks about her ‘meltdown’ on the House floor

The Democratic North Carolina lawmaker who got national attention Wednesday for shouting “I will not yield” at the Republican House speaker during an override vote Wednesday told supporters Thursday that she’s not backing down.

Another Democratic lawmaker called for the resignation of the speaker, the day after the House overrode the governor’s veto of the state budget in a move the governor called “an assault on our democracy.” The veto was overridden with the needed supermajority because most of the Democrats weren’t there, under the impression that the morning session would be a no-vote session.

When Rep. Deb Butler of Wilmington and other Democrats realized the override vote was being taken, they protested vehemently, with Butler’s reaction recorded by another lawmaker.

On Thursday morning, Butler, who is also the House Democratic whip, spoke at a protest and news conference on the front lawn of the Legislative Building, where the General Assembly meets.

“North Carolina is better than this. ... What happened yesterday was a shameful, shameful display,” Butler told a group of other Democrats and progressives, including representatives from the N.C. NAACP and the N.C. Association of Educators.

Butler described her outburst on the floor as “a meltdown.” Someone in the crowd called out that it was a “melt up,” and she repeated that.

“What I did was remarkable only insofar that it happened in that building. We all have the capacity for that,” Butler said.

She paraphrased a message someone sent her afterward. “’One day she realized she was fierce and brave and strong, and her passion for the issues shone brighter than her fear.’ And I think that’s what happened yesterday, but it’s in every one of us,” she said.

Butler said North Carolinians should demand more of their legislators and elected representatives.

“I am so proud to stand with the great citizens of the state of North Carolina to say we will not yield,” Butler said.

Calls for Moore’s resignation

Sen. Terry Van Duyn called for House Speaker Tim Moore’s resignation, as did others on Thursday morning. But the move is largely symbolic.

Van Duyn, a Buncombe County Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor, said the actions in the House Wednesday were “beyond the pale” and that’s why she’s calling for Moore’s resignation.

“He has shamelessly connived to deny your elected officials their vote on the most important issue of the session, and that’s the budget,” Van Duyn said.

The budget override vote had been on the House’s daily calendar since July 9. Moore said publicly multiple times that he would call the vote when he thought he had enough votes to pass it.

Democrats caught off guard

However, Democrats were caught off guard — and in low attendance — when Republican Rep. Jason Saine made the motion to override the veto of HB 966, which is the budget. Democrats shouted their objections immediately.

Responding to Van Duyn’s call for the speaker’s resignation, Moore spokesman Joseph Kyzer referenced a news release his office sent out Thursday that gave a rundown of the day and said the Republican vote was not planned ahead of time.

Kyzer said, “Van Duyn’s statements are based on outrageously false, fabricated lies about what unfolded and are nothing more than a ploy to draw attention to her campaign for higher office.”

In news conferences and on the House floor Wednesday, Republican Rep. David Lewis and House Democratic leader Darren Jackson talked about an apparent miscommunication over when votes would be taken in that day’s two different House sessions. Jackson told House Democrats there would be no votes at the 8:30 a.m. session, and apologized to them later for it. Lewis said that at the time, he didn’t think there would be morning votes, and told a WRAL reporter that via text.

However, Lewis did not make an announcement from the floor that there would not be votes. A roller coaster day of multiple news conferences by Democrats, Republicans and the governor all preceded the House afternoon session when Jackson asked Lewis to recall the override vote because of the miscommunication. Lewis did not call for a recall, but Jackson did. The recall failed.

Protesters from outside went inside the Legislative Building Thursday morning, and gathered in the General Assembly galleries during the morning session. The Senate had a brief session that did not include the budget veto override.

Van Duyn said in an interview with The News & Observer she does not think Senate Republicans will be able to get Senate Democrats to vote with them on a budget override. The veto override has not yet been added to the Senate calendar as of Thursday afternoon. Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters on Wednesday that this week they are just concentrating on redistricting.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.