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Anger over House budget veto override spills into second day

Posted September 12, 2019 12:06 p.m. EDT
Updated September 12, 2019 5:15 p.m. EDT

— Dozens of protesters gathered at the legislature Thursday to call for House Speaker Tim Moore's resignation, accusing him of deceptive tactics after Wednesday's surprise budget veto override vote.

When the House convened for a brief no-vote session, protesters made their presence known, shouting "shame, shame, shame" during the morning opening prayer.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, who delivered the prayer, seemed to tailor his invocation in response.

"The need to focus on what can be done, not letting the possibility of doing one good thing be the enemy of the opportunity for many good things. We are one house sometimes divided," Horn said during the prayer.

The chanting continued outside the House chamber, with about two dozen protestors shouting as the House handled its limited business for the day. General Assembly police were on hand and warned the protesters to either stop shouting or face removal from the building. That quieted down most of the action, and the House adjourned soon after.

Horn said later that he was disappointed by the breach of decorum, but he wasn't surprised.

"These are highly emotional times, not just this [situation], but the times," he said. "It’s a toxic political environment, the disruption."

Horn said people have the right to protest, but that doesn't mean just shouting down the other side.

"On one hand, that’s the American way. Get up, speak up, have your voices heard," he said. "I think people need to stifle themselves a little bit. Consider how can I be effective, rather than just heard."

Most House Democrats didn't show up for a Wednesday morning floor session after House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson told them there would be no recorded votes on legislation. Jackson, D-Wake, said he based that on a conversation the day before with House Rules Chairman David Lewis.

Moore seized on the Democrats' absence to call for an override of Gov. Roy Cooper's budget veto, and it easily passed 55-9. The vote was later updated to 55-15 after several Democrats who were on the floor at the time requested to be recorded as "no" votes.

"The North Carolina legislature has become a place that is distrusted. People have no confidence in us, and the citizens have had enough," said Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, whose tirade on the House floor after the override vote has gone viral on a national scale.

Butler said she wasn’t surprised by the angry protests, saying she believes House Republicans intentionally deceived Democrats to push the override vote through because they couldn’t otherwise break the impasse.

"It wasn’t a surprise to me that people came out in droves this morning with very little notice. People have had enough. They’ve had enough," she said.

Republicans lost their veto-proof majority in the House last fall, and they were never able to persuade enough Democrats to vote with them to obtain the needed three-fifths of members present to achieve an override. So Moore simply kept rolling the potential override over on the floor calendar from one day to the next since early July, waiting for the time when the numbers would favor the GOP.

Jackson said Lewis, R-Harnett, had told him Tuesday that there would be no votes Wednesday morning. Jackson and Lewis agreed by Wednesday afternoon that there had been a miscommunication, with Lewis saying he'd thought there wouldn't be any votes, something he'd also told WRAL News via text message Tuesday. Lewis and Jackson both missed the Wednesday morning session.

Moore, who didn't comment on Thursday’s protest, said Wednesday that he's the only one to decide whether votes will be held or not during a floor session, and he never made such an announcement for Wednesday morning. No one misled the Democrats, he said, noting that they could have defeated an override attempt if they had simply shown up for the session.

Butler said Moore should resign because he’s lost lawmakers’ confidence.

"A sacred trust has been broken, and it’s hard to rebuild that. You know, you’ve got to earn it back. You don’t get it just overnight."

Others have voiced the same concerns, but Horn expressed confidence that House lawmakers will find a way to get along.

"History shows that, yes, we can overcome these things," he said. "Emotions run high for a few days, but I think most of us know we’re here to do a job, and we’ve got to move on."

Although Jackson has said he doesn't think Lewis misled him, Cooper was less forgiving, saying repeatedly that House GOP leadership lied to get what they wanted.

Cooper and Republican legislative leaders have been locked in a stalemate over the budget for two months. He wants to include Medicaid expansion for thousands of low-income working adults in budget negotiations, while lawmakers are adamantly opposed to expanding the taxpayer-funded health insurance program.