The verdict is now plain. North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders — not actually leaders, but connivers — are beyond shame.
In a stunning display of contempt for democracy, House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, called a surprise vote to overturn Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget just after a session opened at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Democratic lawmakers and the media had been told by Republican leaders that there would be no vote in the morning.
Most Democrats were absent. Enough Republicans, aware of the secret plan, were there. When Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, made the motion to reconsider the state budget, the handful of Democrats on hand objected strenuously.
“This is a travesty of the process and you know it,” said Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover.
That it was, but with these Republicans a travesty of the process is just business as usual. With only 64 of the House’s 120 members present, the vote to override passed 55-9.
Now it’s up to Democrats in the Senate to follow their conscience — and perhaps for a few Senate Republicans to find theirs — and refuse to follow the theft in the House with the necessary three-fifths vote of those present in the Senate.
The decision will be up to individual members. Senate leader Phil Berger was no doubt aware of Moore’s plan to end run Democratic opposition. It’s a grim reality that there are likely no Senate Republicans who — however they may feel about the budget — would turn away from participating in this act of subterfuge. In a sense, the budget that comes before them to be made into law is the legislative equivalent of stolen goods. So what, they’ll figure, our side stole it; Democrats shouldn’t have been so trusting. Tough.
But this isn’t a case simply of hardball politics and sly legislative maneuvering. This is a case of breaking faith with the people of North Carolina and with all who strove and sacrificed over generations to protect and advance North Carolina’s political system as one based on a true representation of the people’s will, a true democracy.
And the legislation at issue isn’t a bill of limited scope. It is the state budget. It is how North Carolina defines itself by the priorities it sets in spending. And it’s being held up by a dispute over a major issue that involves billions of federal dollars and ultimately affects everyone in the state, Medicaid expansion.
The governor wants North Carolina — like 37 other states (including Washington, D.C.) — to expand the federal health insurance program to include more of the working poor. Republicans do not. The dispute — plus the governor’s call for bigger raises for teachers — led to the budget veto that the Republican majority — in any honest fashion — lacks the votes to override. The impasse should bring negotiations, concessions, alternatives and compromise, also known as the democratic process. Instead it brought forth a Republican shortcut — legislative deceit.
Not only was the House vote dishonest, it was carried out by a Republican majority that courts have repeatedly found to have gained seats through illegal gerrymandering. It was an illegitimate majority acting in an unethical way. These Republicans may be incapable of shame, but North Carolinians should be outraged. First by gerrymandering and now by a high-handed vote, something new has been taken from them. It’s called democracy.