A North Carolina Democrat's shocking party switch has handed complete power over to the state's Republicans
- A North Carolina lawmaker switched parties in what is a stunning turn of events in the state's politics.
- State Rep. Tricia Cotham, formerly a Charlotte-area Democrat, on Wednesday announced her move to the GOP.
A North Carolina state representative who was elected as a Democrat announced her switch to the Republican Party, which gives the GOP a supermajority in the state legislature and allows them to override vetoes from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
State Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Mecklenburg County lawmaker who served in the North Carolina House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017 and again beginning in 2023 after an unsuccessful congressional bid in 2016, blasted her former party while a group of legislative Republicans stood behind her at a Wednesday press conference.
"The party wants to villainize anyone who has free thought, free judgment, has solutions and wants to get to work to better our state," Cotham said. "Not just sit in a meeting and have a workshop after a workshop, but really work with individuals to get things done, because that's what real public servants do."
Such a dramatic move by Cotham will empower the GOP to pass a swath of conservative-oriented legislation over the objection of Gov. Cooper if the party remains united on all of its votes. Cooper, a former state legislator who also served as the state's attorney general for 16 years, is a moderate but has clashed with North Carolina Republicans on issues including abortion policy, voting rights, gun rights, and appointment powers.
Republicans already have a supermajority in the state Senate, where they control 30 of the 50 seats. But after the 2022 elections, the GOP came one vote shy of a supermajority in the lower chamber, controlling 71 out of 120 seats, while Democrats currently maintain 49 seats.
The news of the impending party switch was first reported by Axios Raleigh on Tuesday.
The North Carolina Democratic Party upon hearing the news on Tuesday called on their onetime caucus member to resign.
"This is deceit of the highest order. Rep. Cotham's decision is a betrayal to the people of HD-112 with repercussions not only for her district, but for our entire state," the party said in a statement. "If she can no longer represent the values her constituents entrusted her to champion, she should resign, now."
Cooper in a Tuesday statement expressed dismay at Cotham's decision.
"This is a disappointing decision. 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," the governor said. "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."
In 2016, Cooper narrowly defeated then-Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and in 2020 beat then-Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, giving Democrats a continued foothold in a state that had once been favorable to them.
But despite North Carolina's increasingly diverse population and its penchant for close statewide contests, Republicans have dominated state legislative races since seizing control of the General Assembly in the 2010 elections.
Upon assuming power in 2011, legislative Republicans set out to redraw districts that would protect their newly-robust majorities, affording them an outsized number of seats relative to their party registration and statewide electoral performances. As a result, redistricting in the state has been a highly contentious affair, with multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of districts across the state.
And while Republicans in Raleigh have pursued a raft of conservative legislation over the past decade, their push hit a roadblock when Cooper bested McCrory.
As of March 2023, Cooper had issued 75 vetoes — more than all previous North Carolina governors combined — since taking office six years ago, according to The Assembly NC.
From 2005 to 2009, Jerry Meek, whom Cotham married in late 2008, was the chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party. According to the North Carolina political blog Watauga Watch, Cotham and Meek are no longer married.
Cotham's mother, Pat Cotham, is an at-large member of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.
State Rep. Cotham's office has not yet responded to Insider's request for comment.
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