How many NC legislators are vaccinated? Most, particularly Republicans, don't say
Posted July 27, 2021 4:05 p.m. EDT
Updated July 27, 2021 7:12 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Some Republican state lawmakers are headed to Utah this week for a national conference with other state legislators.
It’s not clear how many, and it’s not clear how many are vaccinated against COVID-19. Less than 20 percent of Republican House and Senate members responded to WRAL News' questions on the matter, and leadership said they’re not tracking either metric.
All but five of the Republicans who did respond said they won’t be attending the conference. All but one said they’re vaccinated, but that’s a total of 17 Republican lawmakers out of 97 at the legislature.
Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said some lawmakers, especially Republicans, may not want to alienate their vaccine-resistant constituents.
"[Former President] Donald Trump was vaccinated in January but didn’t reveal that until April. So, it’s again this idea of, if I’m a Republican, I may not want to tell you that I’ve been vaccinated because it will then get back to people," McLennan said.
Legislative Democrats were far more likely to respond, with more than 50 percent answering emailed questions to their legislative email accounts. All said they’re vaccinated, and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said every Senate Democrat has had the vaccine, which would boost those numbers higher.
Each lawmaker got two emails from WRAL, the first on Wednesday of last week and the second sent Thursday night.
None of the Democrats who responded are headed to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual meetings, which is no surprise, since it’s a right-leaning group. But WRAL also asked lawmakers whether they planned any out-of-state travel over the next month.
The Democrats who responded all said no.
McLennan said he doesn't think lawmakers being vaccinated would help boost North Carolina's lagging vaccination rate.
"I think people are so polarized and so distrustful of government," McLennan said. "I think that's what the real remedy is – we've got to find some way to create more trust. It's not a politician talking or writing an op-ed or something. I just think it's a much longer-term solution."
Some Republicans across the U.S. have even attacked other Republicans for promoting vaccines, which Audrey Pettifor, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health, called depressing.
"This is the tool we have in our toolbox to stop this, this epidemic, and to save your life and to save people's lives," Pettifor said. "The fact that we've taken a life-saving tool that could get us all back to normal and turned it into something political is incredibly sad to me."
WRAL also questioned Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, and spokesman Ford Porter said the governor is vaccinated. He and the legislature’s top Republicans, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, cut a public service announcement this spring asking people to take their shot.
Moore, R-Cleveland, and Berger, R-Rockingham, are both vaccinated, and neither plans to attend the ALEC meetings this week, their offices said.
Cooper last traveled out of state in March 2020, Porter said, though that may change soon.
“There are a number of events governors attend, and the governor is vaccinated and would feel comfortable traveling,” Porter said in a text message. “(Virginia) Gov. Northam has invited Gov. Cooper to participate in a wind energy event in Richmond on 8/25, but that is not confirmed.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson said last month he had not gotten a vaccine. His office didn't respond Tuesday when asked for an update.
COVID-19 cases are climbing again around the country as ALEC prepares to host state lawmakers and exhibitors from around the country for three days in Salt Lake City. The convention’s main hotel is sold out, according to the conference’s web page.
North Carolina lawmakers will return to a regular legislative schedule next week, with meetings in committee rooms both small and large at the statehouse. Masks, once common at the General Assembly – though much moreso for Democrats than Republicans – are now rare for both parties and for the lobbyists who have largely returned to the building.
Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, a former national chairman for ALEC and a current state chair, said he’s traveled regularly during the pandemic, both before and after getting his vaccine months ago.
“I do think it is important for leaders to actively demonstrate a strong sense of confidence in returning back to normal and to avoid much of the fear-mongering that continues from some in elected office and in the media,” Saine said in a text message.
Saine, like a number of lawmakers who responded, said he didn’t think it was the public’s business whether he was vaccinated. Most who expressed that opinion answered yes or no anyway. The exception was Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, whose legislative assistant said in an email that “our office does not believe that this is any of your business. Period.”
After a follow-up question, Steinburg’s assistant said the senator won’t travel to ALEC.
Throughout the pandemic, the General Assembly has avoided a large outbreak while meeting consistently. Most meetings are in person, though often with a virtual option.
A Robeson County Republican tested positive in July of last year, but there’s no indication he passed the virus to others at the statehouse, despite not typically wearing a mask at the time. Two lawmakers, one from each party, tested positive after a legislative duck hunt in January, and a western senator tested positive in March.
But, again, there was no indication of extensive spread.
The lone lawmaker who responded to WRAL’s survey and said he wasn’t vaccinated was Rep. Kelly Hastings, R-Gaston.
“I am traveling neither to the ALEC conference nor any other out-of-state conferences over the next month, and I have no conferences scheduled for the remainder of this year,” Hastings said via email. “I am in consultation with my physician about further vaccinations.”
Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, who was a Winston-Salem hospital executive before joining the North Carolina House, said he’s vaccinated and will get booster shots when needed.
“(I) wear a mask in high-risk or more public areas and no plans to travel to ALEC,” Lambeth emailed. “Will be working on state budget.”