Note: The link to the session audio has been updated to include the full morning and afternoon sessions from September 11, 2019. The referenced video from Rep. Autry has been changed to private as of 5:13PM.
This morning, the North Carolina House of Representatives overrode the governor’s veto of House Bill 966, the state budget for the 2019-2021 biennium. The governor vetoed the budget less than 24 hours after receiving it, and the veto override vote has been on the House’s daily calendar for over 2 months.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) called for the vote at this morning’s 8:30 session, and the veto was overridden by a 55-9 vote. If that number seems small to you, it’s because it is – only 64 of the House’s 120 members were present for the vote. Speaker Moore seems to have strategically called the vote when most of the House Democrats were absent from the floor. Democrats allege that they were intentionally misled about the morning’s session being a “no-vote” session.
The Democratic response was swift. “Unhinged” is the word that comes to mind when listening to the audio of Rep. Deb Butler (D-Brunswick) and other House Democrats shouting over the vote (the vote starts around the 5 minute mark). Butler and others can be heard screaming at the Speaker, speaking over him, the House Clerk, and other members of the House who had been recognized under the rules of decorum.
The irony is that the hysteria among many members of the House Democratic caucus comes over a budget that is vastly similar to the budget the governor proposed, with only a few key differences.
This is also not the first time that a controversial vote has been taken strategically based on member presence in the chamber. Most famously was the 2005 vote in the Senate to approve the NC Education lottery. The Winston-Salem Journal reported that two Republican lottery opponents were absent, one on his honeymoon and the other in the hospital. Democrats controlled the Senate at the time and took advantage of the situation, proving that both parties can and do use the procedural rules of their chambers to advance their legislative agenda.
As mentioned, today’s House Democrats are alleging that the Republican leadership told them no votes would be held in the morning session. Republicans point to the audio from Tuesday’s session, where they announced moving an unrelated vote to Wednesday. Democrat leaders alleged in a press conference that Republican Rep. David Lewis (Harnett), the House Rules Chair, told them the morning session would have no votes. While the he said-she said continues, there is perhaps a more important question at hand: where were the House Democrats?
On a Wednesday – the middle of the legislative week – the members were almost certainly in town, especially if they were under the impression that the 1PM session would be a voting session. Many of them may even have been on the legislative campus, given the on-going committee work.
Namely, both chambers of the legislature are working on redrawing the state legislative maps in compliance with a state court order. Under that order, the court directed that the new maps must be drawn in public view. Even the computer screens of the map drawers must be available for public observance. In fact, you can live stream them here.
Interestingly, Rep. Butler makes a rather incriminating statement during her tantrum. While railing on the Speaker for calling the vote, she says, “We’re downstairs right now trying to redraw partisan-heavy maps.” (Around the 13-minute mark of the official audio, and at the 5:27 mark on this video published by Democratic Rep. John Autry)
Since both the House and Senate redistricting meeting are occurring on the top floors of the Legislative Office Building, and Rep. Butler’s statement was made on the House floor in the main Legislative Building, this begs the question: were the House Democrats violating the court order and drawing their secret maps while the session was going on?
During this morning’s session, the House also overrode the governor’s veto of House Bill 555, a bill that provided funding for the state’s ongoing transformation of the Medicaid program from a fee-for-service model to a managed care model.
Both bills will now go to the Senate for an override vote. Although previously speculated that the Senate may have the votes on the budget veto override, the Senate Democrats may now be hesitant to go against their House colleagues and the governor after the House override.