On Wednesday morning, a couple North Carolina state Democrats were attending 9/11 memorials away from the capitol where, they assumed, no business was scheduled until the afternoon, while others were attending to other business. But while they were gone, Republicans called a vote to override the Democratic governor's veto of their budget. While Democrats protested that the Republicans had assured them that no votes would come up on 9/11, Republican House leader Tim Moore denied that any assurances ever happened: "There was never any notice that went out saying there would not be recorded votes." He added, "While some want to turn around and fuss and argue about procedure, look, if they didn’t want it to pass, all they had to do was show up for work."
North Carolina has been struggling for many years with politicians undermining the democratic process, and this is the latest episode in that saga.
What exactly did the Republicans vote to do?
Democratic governor Roy Cooper vetoed a two-year Republican-passed budget in June, saying that it underpaid teachers, gave unnecessary handouts to corporations, and didn't include Medicaid expansion to provide health care to the poorest people in the state. This is a new obstacle for the North Carolina GOP which held an ironclad supermajority in the state legislature for eight years, meaning any bill that passed along party lines was veto-proof. That all changed in 2018, when Democrats managed to flip 16 seats in the state house, giving Cooper, who ousted Republican governor at McCrory in 2016, the ability to veto at least some bills.
How did they override the veto then?
The Republicans spent the last few weeks trying to peel off Democrats to join them, but their sudden interest in bipartisanship didn't produce results. Rather than come up with a new budget, they stonewalled, locking up the state legislature in a three week-long budget impasse. The Republicans don't have enough votes to override a veto if all lawmakers are present, but they don't need all lawmakers present to call for a vote. By bringing the veto override to the floor while half the chamber was empty, they managed to pull it off overwhelmingly along party lines, 55-9, with the few Democrats present loudly objecting. "This is a travesty of the process, and you know it," Deb Butler, a Democrat, told Moore.
It feels like this sort of thing is happening a lot in North Carolina.
Since Republicans took control of the state in 2011, they've been busy remaking the state so it would be impossible for them to lose their majority. North Carolina has been at the forefront for voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering, and the Republicans' methods were so effective that by 2016 they held overwhelming majorities despite barely winning half of all votes. In 2017, just before Democratic governor-elect Roy Cooper was about to take office, the Republicans tried to strip the office of as much power as they could. Andrew Reynolds, a political scientist based in North Carolina, has helped develop a battery of tests to assess the strength of fledgling democratic governments. When he applied those tests to North Carolina, he found the state was so unrepresentative of and unresponsive to voters that it objectively failed to qualify as a functioning democracy.
But aren't those just measures to keep elections secure?
Flatly, no. A federal court found that the state's voter ID laws targeted African American voters with "surgical precision" and a state court this month found that the Republican-drawn legislative map was an unconstitutional gerrymander. In fact, the only major instance of voter fraud in recent North Carolina history was committed by Republicans. In 2018, far-right Republican candidate Mark Harris was elected to represent North Carolina's ninth district in Congress, beating the Democratic candidate by less than 1,000 out of nearly 300,000. But on closer inspection, it turned out that Harris's win was a fraud, a "coordinated, unlawful, and substantially-resourced" one, according to the state election board.
What are people saying about it?
Cooper didn't buy the Republicans' claims that they were conducting business as usual. After the veto override, he said, "You look at the number of people who were in that chamber and how many of them were Republicans and how many of them were Democrats. There's no confusion about what happened here. This was a lie, and we know why they were not there because they were told that there were not going to be votes," Cooper said. "And the Republican caucus was laying in wait, ready for this." He added, "They used lies, bribes and illegal districts because their policies damage our state and can't pass on their own merit. Today, on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, while the state was honoring first responders, Republicans called a deceptive surprise override of my budget veto."
In a statement to ABC 11, Republican representative Jason Saine said, "As a former firefighter and an American, I am appalled that anyone in our country would stop going about their normal business on this day. When we stop being a beacon of freedom, hope and democracy, then the terrorists win."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misrepresented how many Democrats attended 9/11 memorials. We regret the error.
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Originally Appeared on GQ