NC Democrat House member changes parties, affording Republicans supermajority

Five months after the Republicans fell one seat short of regaining a veto-proof supermajority in the midterm election, they have now re-secured the supermajority as a former Democrat from Mecklenburg County changed her party affiliation. 

N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham changed her party affiliation and became a Republican, according to initial reporting from Axios. Cotham formally announced the party switch at a press conference with the NC House Republican Leaders on Wednesday. 

The change in party affiliation provides the Republicans a close three-fifths supermajority in both houses of the N.C. General Assembly, allowing them to overturn any of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes without needing to flip any Democratic members. Republicans already have a supermajority in the Senate, holding 30 out of 50 seats. 

At the GOP press conference, Cotham said that she felt bullied by her Democratic colleagues and had grown apart from the party on matters like school choice. 

“The modern-day Democratic Party has become unrecognizable to me and to so many others throughout this state and this country,” she said at the conference. According to reporting from Axios, Cotham alleges that Gov. Cooper "tells you what to do" and "if you don't do" what the Democrats want, "they will bully you."

In addition, the North Carolina House Speaker claimed that there are additional Democratic House members who have expressed interest in changing parties. 

North Carolina Republicans lost their previously-held supermajority in 2018. After the 2022 midterms, N.C. Republicans fell just one seat short of a supermajority in both chambers.

The supermajority makes the critical difference between the “state government passing very little, and the Republicans being able to pass essentially whatever they want,” Christopher Cooper, Robert Lee Madison distinguished professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University, said in a statement to The Chronicle ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Cotham was one of three Democrats not in attendance at the House’s vote to overturn Gov. Cooper’s veto on a bill to remove pistol permit requirements. Cotham released a statement that she was receiving treatment for long COVID. She also had an excused absence from the initial House vote on March 15.

In the 2022 election, she won by a margin of 18.44%. Her district — District 112 — is located entirely within Mecklenburg County and sits outside downtown Charlotte.

The move comes just days after N.C. Republicans introduced a total abortion ban in the House. House Bill 533 would ban abortions at conception unless to preserve the life of the mother. The bill, titled “Human Life Protection Act of 2023,” does not provide any exceptions in the case of rape or incest. 

The Democratic governor issued a statement Tuesday calling Cotham’s decision “disappointing.” 

“Rep. Cotham’s votes on women’s reproductive freedom, election laws, LGBTQ rights and strong public schools will determine the direction of the state we love. It’s hard to believe she would abandon these long held principles and she should still vote the way she has always said she would vote when these issues arise, regardless of party affiliation,” Gov. Cooper said.

The Mecklenburg County Board of Elections told the News and Observer on Tuesday that Cotham had not formally made the switch and there were not any pending requests for change in party affiliation. 

However, N.C. House Republican Leaders held a joint press conference with Cotham on Wednesday at the state’s GOP headquarters. 

Tuesday afternoon, before a House session, staff members were seen clearing out Cotham’s old desk on the Democratic side of the chamber, so she can relocate to a desk on the Republican side. At the afternoon session, she was seated on the Republican side of the chamber.

Democrats call for resignation

North Carolina Democrats have addressed the switch, describing Cotham’s change in party affiliation as deceitful, with impacts to not only her constituents but all North Carolinians. Several individuals and groups have already called for her resignation. 

Anderson Clayton, the chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, wrote in a tweet that Cotham’s decision “is an absolute betrayal of every voter, volunteer, activist, and supporter of the Democratic Party.” She continued to call the decision “deceitful to the voters of HD-112.”

Jane Whitley, the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party Chair, joined Clayton in calling for Cotham’s resignation, calling her switch “deceit of the highest order.” 

House Minority Leader Robert Reives also called on Cotham to resign in a statement. Reives wrote that Cotham campaigned as a Democrat and supporter of abortion rights, health care, public education, gun safety and civil rights. He noted that voters “elected her to serve as that person and overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.” 

“That is not the person that was presented to the voters of House District 112. That is not the person those constituents campaigned for in a hard primary, and who they championed in a general election in a 60% Democratic district,” Reives wrote in the statement. “Those constituents deserved to know what values were most important to their elected representative.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Wednesday morning after Cotham officially announced her intention to switch to the Republican party at a Wednesday press conference.

Kathryn Thomas profile
Kathryn Thomas | News Editor

Kathryn Thomas is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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