North Carolina Democrat switches parties, giving Republicans veto-wielding supermajority in state House

(CNN) North Carolina Republicans won a veto majority in the state House of Representatives after a Charlotte-area Democrat announced Wednesday that he is switching parties.

State Rep. Trisha Cottam, who won as a Democrat in her blue district last fall by nearly 20 points, said at a news conference in Raleigh that “the modern Democratic Party has become unrecognizable to me.”

“I’m no longer a Democrat, but I remain a public servant, that’s what I’m called to do. The party that represents me and my principles and what’s best for North Carolina is the Republican Party,” Cotham, wearing a red dress and surrounded by his new fellow Republicans, told GOP headquarters in Raleigh.

“I am a single mother of two amazing sons, a teacher, a small business owner, a woman of strong faith, a national championship basketball coach, and a public servant. Today I’m adding a Republican to that list,” she said, noting that she was “welcomed with open arms” by her new colleagues.

Cotham’s replacement could have major implications for lawmaking in the Tar Heel State. Republicans already had a supermajority in the North Carolina Senate. Cotham’s flip gives them 72 seats in the state House — and enough votes in both chambers to override any veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cotham’s plan to switch parties was first reported by Axios. CNN contacted Cotham about the party switch.

Cottam served in the state House of Representatives as a Democrat for nearly a decade before stepping down in 2016. She ran again in 2022, winning the crowded Democratic primary and then the general election for the newly retired House. District 112 in southeastern Mecklenburg County.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Cottam said “the turning point for me was when I was criticized for using the American flag and the praying hands emoji on all my social media platforms and even on the back of various vehicles that I have.”

“I really couldn’t believe that these were the conversations that were happening at the time and I was deeply offended,” she said, adding that “to say this is wrong and not be able to show off a flag, for others to hijack it for something else, why are we in this place in politics?”

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement Wednesday that Cottam’s announcement “continues to reflect that the Democratic Party is too radical for North Carolina.”

“The GOP’s values ​​align with voters, and the people of Mecklenburg County should be proud to have its representation in Raleigh,” he said.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Rona McDaniel also welcomed Cottam to the GOP, saying in a statement Wednesday: “Even in a Biden district in a purple state, Democrats are reading the writing on the wall: liberal policies are too extreme and failing Americans.”

“Political Earthquake”

Democrats reacted to Cottam’s decision with anger and frustration.

“Congressman Cottam’s vote on women’s reproductive freedom, election laws, LGBTQ rights, and strong public schools will shape the direction of the state we love.” It’s hard to believe that she would abandon these long-held principles, and she still has to vote the way she’s always said she would when these issues come up, regardless of party affiliation,” Cooper said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday.

The White House also weighed in on Cotham’s switch.

“The foundation of American freedoms is at stake in the North Carolina Legislature’s vote,” spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “We sincerely hope that all members of the state House and State Senate listen to their consciences — instead of politics — and put the rights of North Carolinians and the safety of their communities first.”

North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman-elect Anderson Clayton called on Cottam to resign from his seat.

“Congressman Cotham’s decision to switch parties is fraud of the highest order. This is a betrayal of the people of Mecklenburg County, with ramifications not only for the people of her district, but for the entire state of North Carolina,” Clayton said at a press conference Wednesday in Raleigh outside party headquarters with other Democrats and Cotham residents. “Reproductive freedoms are under threat. Our public schools are under threat. LGBTQ rights are at risk. Voting rights are in jeopardy. Our future as a country is at stake.”

“This is not about political vendettas. It’s about the constituents who trusted Representative Cotham to stand up for their values, who now have little confidence that she will,” Clayton added. “HD112 is a 60% Democratic district, y’all. And they didn’t choose to elect a Republican. They chose to elect a Democrat.”

Cameron Pruett, the chair of the Mecklenburg County LGBTQ+ Democrats, said at the press conference, “I knew there was a problem when we invited Tricia Cottam to the Human Rights Campaign dinner a few weeks ago, she didn’t show up. Is it a deliberate move? How long has he known? Voters deserve to know.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Jackson, a former state senator who represents parts of Mecklenburg County, tweeted on Wednesday that Cotham’s decision represented a “political earthquake” that “will have serious consequences for millions of people”.

“While we don’t know how she’ll vote on any given bill, dozens of bills that were essentially dead — from election law changes to reproductive freedom to LGBTQ rights to education policy — may have just come back to life.” , he said. “And the state budget — which controls education funding — can now be passed entirely based on Republican votes.”

“There are no recall provisions in North Carolina. She will be able to serve out her full two-year term, which just started in January. During this period, the Republicans will now be in full control,” Jackson said.

Cottam’s campaign website, which still listed her as a Democrat as of Wednesday afternoon, touted priorities such as protecting voting rights, affordable housing, health care and fair public schools, among other issues. In a section titled “Equality for All,” Cotham calls himself a “champion of LGBTQ+ rights” and states, “Right now, LGBTQ+ youth are under attack from Republican state legislatures across the country. I will stand firmly against discriminatory legislation and work to pass more protections at the state level.”

Cotham ran for election last year with the support of EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Last week, North Carolina Republicans overrode Cooper’s veto to introduce legislation relaxing permit requirements for handgun purchases. The absence of three state House Democrats, including Cotham, allowed Republicans to push through the repeal.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Kaanita Iyer, Alta Spells and Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *