A Perspective on What Happened
Wednesday morning I was up early since a disaster relief bill, SB429 [Disaster Recovery – 2019 Budget Provisions], I was handling on the House floor was on the calendar at 8:30 a.m. Early morning sessions are somewhat unusual in the House. They sometimes occur late in the week in order to allow legislators to get an early start driving home. They sometimes occur when bills needs to be reported in from a committee for re-referral to another committee or for action on the floor. They also may occur when other big things are happening, and leadership wants to free up the day so committee work can continue. It looked like the early morning session was caused by the timeline for the legislature to produce certain legislative maps for a court-ordered redistricting.
The calendar also included one other appropriations bill, SB118 [Prison Safety/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families State Plan/Clarifications], two potential override votes — one on the budget, HB966 [2019 Appropriations Act], and one on a Medicaid bill, HB555 [Medicaid Transformation Implementation] and a bill which is typically referred to as a form of Medicaid expansion, HB655 [NC Health Care for Working Families]. The Speaker promised to allow the latter bill to be heard if and when the budget veto was overridden.
The budget bill had been routinely placed on the calendar for over a month; Speaker Moore said he’d bring it up only when he had the votes to pass it. There weren’t enough votes to override the veto simply from Republicans. To override the veto, seven Democratic votes were needed if all Members opposing the override were present. For the past month and a half, Speaker Moore had been unsuccessful in getting more than four Democrats to commit to supporting the bill, so the bill had languished on the calendar.
Another way of overriding the veto is to take a vote when some number of those supporting the veto are absent. That is what happened yesterday.
When I arrived for the early morning session, there were many of my Republican colleagues on the floor and few of my Democratic colleagues. The Speaker had consistently warned everyone there would be an override vote when he thought he had the votes, and he quickly realized, with about 40 Democrats missing, that he had the votes to override.
Coverage of what happened in the media and social media has not been completely accurate. To my knowledge, Republican Members weren’t told to be there for an override vote. No one checked to see if I was going to attend the session. I just assumed there would be votes because the presiding officer the day before told everyone there would be votes. Moreover, I had a bill on the calendar and no one told me we wouldn’t be voting on it.
It seems there was some sort of miscommunication. The Democratic leader, Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake), and the Republican Rules Chairman, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) did talk and Jackson came away with the understanding that there would be no votes. He advised his Democratic Members that they didn’t need to attend.
Having been on the floor as session started, I could see that Speaker Moore was puzzled by the sudden absence of Democratic Members. They’d been very disciplined for six weeks and had thwarted his efforts to override the veto. However, on Wednesday the votes on the floor were sufficient to override the veto by the required three-fifths vote.
What follows is an abridged and edited version of what happened according to Speaker Moore:
- The budget veto override was taken during a House floor session with a properly noticed calendar following two public announcements votes would be taken on Wednesday.
- There was never any of the customary public communication of a no-vote session by the Speaker’s office, which makes all such announcements to members of the House when a no-vote session is planned.
- House Republicans never planned to attempt a veto override on Wednesday, nor were they aware House Democrats were incorrectly told by their own leadership of a no-vote session.
- House Republicans had only 55 members in session on Wednesday morning — not even enough to hold a majority on the floor with all members present.
- By their numbers alone, it is obvious that House Republicans never planned to override the veto Wednesday.
- Contrary to reports that House Democrats in North Carolina were attending 9/11 commemoration ceremonies on Wednesday morning, four extremely credible, separate accounts factually demonstrate this was not true.
- First, the editor of the News & Observer’s ‘Insider’ Colin Campbell tweeted the following: “So much misinformation going around the #ncga today: -Only one Democratic House member has been confirmed as attending a 9/11 event during the veto override vote.”
- Second, Governor Roy Cooper said in a noon press conference (4:45 mark) Wednesday that he did not see and was not aware of any House Democrats at a ceremony he attended, directly contradicting a false narrative spun by national media outlets like the Washington Post.
- Third, as widely reported, House Rep. Deb. Butler (D-New Hanover) said on the floor (5:20 mark) that Democrats were downstairs drawing maps during the veto override.
- Fourth, House Minority Leader Darren Jackson confirmed in his press conference that in-fact Democrats had a redistricting committee meeting planned that morning.
- The North Carolina House held its commemoration session for 9/11 first responders and victims in its afternoon session on Wednesday.
- The narrative that the budget veto override vote on Wednesday had anything to do with 9/11 ceremonies is a provably false fabrication debunked by credible sources — the House Democrats themselves.
- This was a mistake by the House Democratic leadership that they took responsibility for it in their press conference Wednesday morning.
- The Speaker frequently announces no-vote legislative sessions for members’ planning purposes, often at least once or twice a week.
- The announcement is made by the Speaker from the floor of the House, by email from the Speaker’s office to all members, or both.
- The announcement is often shared on social media to make the broader General Assembly community aware of a no-vote legislative session.
- None of the customary public announcements were ever made of a no-vote session Wednesday by the Speaker’s office.
- The Speaker’s office relies on public announcements of no-vote sessions from the floor of the House and by direct communication to all members to avoid confusion.
- In three terms as the presiding officer, Speaker Moore has never announced a no-vote session then held votes that session.
- At the end of Tuesday afternoon’s session, Chairman Lewis announced publicly the intention to take recorded votes the following day on two appropriations bills that were directed to Wednesday’s calendar “without objection.”
- When adding both bills to the calendar on Tuesday, Chairman Lewis explicitly announced that there would be recorded votes on Wednesday (5:20 mark of the session’s House audio archive.)
- Shortly after Chairman Lewis announced intention to take recorded votes on the two budget bills the following day, he announced a start time of 8:30 a.m. for Wednesday.
- The Speaker of the House, present members of the House, and staff, were all planning to hold recorded votes on bills on the published calendar for Wednesday’s morning session.
- Speaker Moore and other House leaders were completely unaware that House Democrats were told by their leadership of a no-vote session.
- The House Republican caucus was genuinely confused and surprised when the Democrats did not arrive for the 8:30 am voting session.
- The Speaker confirmed with the clerks and his staff that no announcement had been made of a no-vote session following the prayer and Pledge of Allegiance.
- Members and staff briefly discussed whether to hold the veto override with the votes appearing secured on the floor during a voting session.
- The veto override was never planned, discussed, or considered, by House leaders or staff until Wednesday morning’s session when Democrats did not arrive.
- The Speaker said repeatedly he would hold the veto override when the votes were secured on the floor of the House in a voting session.
The question most asked by constituents about the override vote is what happened to make Democrats think there would be a no-vote session. Both Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), the Rules Chair and the presiding officer for the Tuesday session, and Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) spoke on the floor after the vote about a private conversation they had the day before, that apparently lead to Jackson’s communication to his Democratic colleagues.
The discussion was around the two bills that had been added to the calendar–the two appropriations bills, one of which was my bill–would be voted on at 8:30 a.m. Apparently, the Democrats wanted to meet privately as a caucus to discuss those bills. Lewis agreed that there’d be no votes on those bills at 8:30 a.m., but Jackson apparently understood him to be saying there’d be no votes on any bills at 8:30 a.m.
Neither Rep. Lewis nor Rep. Jackson accused anyone of lying, but it is certainly understandable how things got miscommunicated to Democratic Members since Lewis, when asked by a reporter later in the day whether there would be votes at 8:30 a.m., communicated there would be “No votes at 8:30”.
There are numerous accounts of what happened. The one that seems to set forth facts and provide a balance report is one by WRAL reporter, Travis Fain:
What is still hard to understand is why, when 15 Democrats on the floor realized that they were badly outnumbered, they didn’t just leave the chamber. If all but one of the Democrats had left, the remaining one could have asked for a quorum call. Clearly, there wouldn’t have been a quorum, and no vote could have been taken. Meanwhile, Democratic Members who were apparently in the building could have come back and potentially defeated the veto override.
How I Voted and Why. I voted to override the veto, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. I was a primary cosponsor of the budget bill and am a budget chair. The vetoed budget funds lots of projects important to Henderson County and western North Carolina.
I would have not voted to override if Speaker Moore had said there would be no votes and then orchestrated a vote when Democrats weren’t present. Moreover, I never saw any orchestration of the override vote. My Republican colleagues seemed genuinely surprised, as I was, when the vote occurred.
My View. I’m very conflicted on what has happened. While happy to have overidden the Governor’s veto of the budget, I’m unhappy with the way it happened.
No House Rule was apparently violated, and Speaker Moore did what he said he would do if he ever had the opportunity to call a vote when sufficient number of Democratic Members were missing.
While the vote apparently conformed with House Rules and custom, it has left the House deeply divided. The atmosphere has been described as toxic, and I fear it will be difficult to rebuild the relationships and trust that are critical to resolving sometimes difficult issues. For example, when we finish work on the map-drawing required by a court order, can one reasonably expect that we can work together to cobble together a compromise on nonpartisan redistricting? At this point, I don’t see how that is possible.
While the House Rules provide the formal structure for how the chamber works, what gets done actually depends on the relationships one has with one’s peers. Often one has to trust what one is told about what a complicated bill will do, but without that trust will we be able to efficiently do our work? I’m not sure.
What Happens Next. With the House’s override of the veto of the budget, the bill is now with the Senate. As with the House, if all Republicans support the budget and all Democrats oppose it, there are insufficient votes to override. Senate leadership needs only one Democratic vote to override if all Republican senators are present.. Originally, when the budget passed in the Senate it had bipartisan support. However, now that the Governor has vetoed the budget and the House overrode the veto in a party-line vote, it is unclear what will happen.
Speaker Moore has said he intends to take up a form of Medicaid expansion. The House cannot assume that the Senate will override the veto, so it will likely continue to put forth stand-alone appropriations bills like the ones passed this week.
For the next few days, the legislature’s focus will be on complying with a court order to redistrict some number of state house and state senate districts. Neither of the districts that encompass Henderson County are included in the redistricting process. When new maps are submitted to the court, my hope is that we’ll take some time off to provide a cooling off period for everyone.