Legislators returned to Raleigh for what turned into a contentious week with new legislative districts in the works, and an unexpected budget veto override vote in the House that caught Democrats off guard and feeling misled.
Budget Veto Override
In what Democrats are calling an ambush, the House voted 55 to 15 to override Governor Cooper’s veto of the budget. The vote took place at an 8:30 a.m. session on Tuesday, with 40 Democrats absent, believing that no votes would be taken at that time. House Minority Leader Darren Jackson held a press conference shortly after the vote, criticizing the Republicans for using a dishonest move to get their way. He claimed that Rules Chairman, Representative David Lewis, had told him the day before that no votes would be taken at the 8:30 a.m. session, and so he informed his caucus that they did not need to attend. Representative Lewis claims that Representative Jackson only asked about two bills added to the calendar and wanted time to caucus before votes on those two bills. Speaker Moore said in a press conference later that day that the override was properly noticed and that he had told the members numerous times that he would call the vote on the override if he ever had the numbers. The House also overrode Governor Cooper’s veto of a controversial mini budget bill, House Bill 555, which allocates funds for Medicaid Transformation, the State’s movement to capitated Medicaid contracts. The Senate still has to override these bills for them to become law.
Governor Cooper criticized the move as deceptive and called it a new low. The Governor hopes that the Senate Democrats will stand firm on the veto, however, Republicans in the Senate only need to flip one Democrat to override. This move has led to both sides criticizing the other, and trust has been destroyed between the two parties. Some have compared the move to a controversial 2005 vote for the NC Education Lottery when several members were absent, and that move is still brought up today, nearly 15 years later. Protesters calling for Speaker Moore’s resignation were present at the Legislative Building the day after the vote, chanting “shame” and holding signs that read “Shame on Speaker Moore.”
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has indicated that the Senate will not immediately take up the override, and that they will remain solely focused on redistricting and complying with the court’s order.
Congressional Special Elections
North Carolina held special elections in the Third Congressional District and the Ninth Congressional District this Tuesday. State Representative Greg Murphy won in the Third with 61.74% of the vote, and State Senator Dan Bishop won in the Ninth by a narrow margin, receiving 50.74% of the votes. The special election in the Third was ordered after longtime Congressman Walter Jones passed away. The Ninth District election was the result of an election fraud investigation by the Board of Elections, which ultimately ordered a new election after concluding that the absentee ballot fraud was widespread enough to affect the election outcome. Republican Mark Harris, who originally won the Ninth District election and employed the political operative at the center of the investigation, chose not to run in the special election, citing health concerns. The special elections gained national attention as both political parties looked to the elections to give them insight into trends for the 2020 elections. President Trump and Vice President Pence even made stops in North Carolina to help Bishop and Murphy campaign in the days leading up to the election.
The House and Senate both began working though the redistricting process this week after a three judge panel recently ruled that the current legislative maps are unconstitutional. The court found that the maps were created with partisan intent and discriminated against Democrats by forcing them into districts where they are not allowed to elect the candidate of their choice. The Superior Court Judges have given the General Assembly until September 18 to redraw the maps, and specified that the old districts cannot be used as a starting point. Both chambers are using maps created by Jowei Chen as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the case that led to the maps being thrown out. Chen created 1,000 maps, but the legislature is picking the top contenders to be considered as a starting point. The Senate narrowed their selection down to five maps, and, in a legislative first, used the State Education Lottery machine to randomly section one out of the five. Both chambers are expected to vote on their maps next week after a joint public hearing at noon on Monday. Once approved, the maps will be reviewed by the same three judge panel that invalidated the old maps.
Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee Documents:
House Redistricting Committee Documents: https://www.ncleg.gov/Committees/CommitteeInfo/HouseStanding/182#Documents
Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee Documents:
Former NC Supreme Court Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. Passes Away
Former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. died Thursday, September 12, 2019. Lake served on the NC Supreme Court for 12 years, and led the Court from 2001 to 2006, and had previously served as a state senator. During his time on the bench, Justice Lake gained the reputation as a "law-and-order conservative.” His long career of public service includes many achievements, however, most notably are the contributions he made to criminal justice reform. In 2002, while serving as Chief Justice, he began the effort that would create the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in 2006, the first of its kind in the nation. The Commission consists of a superior court judge, a prosecuting attorney, a defense attorney, a victim advocate, a member of the public, a sheriff, and two discretionary members, and works to review post-conviction claims of innocence in North Carolina. Justice Lake joined Nexsen Pruet's Raleigh office in 2011.