This story originally published online at NC Newsline.
Rep. Tricia Cotham formally announced she is switching parties to become a Republican, giving the GOP a veto-proof majority in the state House.
Cotham bashed Democrats at a news conference Wednesday morning where Republicans welcomed her to the GOP. Cotham said Democrats had bullied her, shunned her, tried to tell her what to do, and called her a traitor when she was selected to co-lead a House education committee.
“They have pushed me out,” she said. “They have made it very clear they don’t want me.” Cotham said she had only attended one House caucus meeting this session.
Democrats used to be a “big tent” party, she said, but now discourages independent thought.
“The Party wants to villainize anyone who has free thought, free judgment, has solutions, who wants to get to work and better our state, and not just sit in a meeting and have a workshop after a workshop.”
House Democratic leader Robert Reives’ office did not respond to an email Wednesday morning seeking comment.
But anticipating what Cotham would say, the NC League of Conservation voters sent an email Tuesday night saying Cotham betrayed the voters of her heavily-Democratic district.
“Tomorrow Tricia Cotham is going to lie to the voters in House District 112 and claim a political party betrayed her and gave her no other choice,” said the statement from director of government relations Dan Crawford. “However, Tricia is the one committing an act of betrayal and that is to the voters who fulfilled their civic duty to vote, and chose to vote for her. Turncoat Tricia needs to have the courage of her convictions and resign and let the people who elected her make a worthy replacement that represents the values they voted for in November.”
Cotham’s plan to switch parties was first reported by Axios. Before Tuesday’s afternoon House session, her seat on the House floor was moved to the Republican side.
Party switch has dramatic impact on Cooper veto
House Republicans now have 72 caucus members and enough votes to overturn Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes if they all stick together. Senate Republicans won a veto-proof majority in November.
Democrats’ power to sustain Cooper’s vetoes this session was already weak. His veto of a bill loosening gun laws was overturned last week when three Democrats, including Cotham, were absent for the override vote. The absences gave Republicans their needed 3/5ths majority.
Republicans this session are working through a list of priorities that in the last four years had been stymied by Cooper’s vetoes. Republicans are acting on voting restrictions, expanded use of school vouchers, restrictions on how public school teachers talk about racism, and requirements for teachers to post online their lesson plans and course materials.
House Speaker Tim Moore did not want to say much about issues where Cotham’s party switch would make a difference. His goal this session was to work with centrist Democrats to build agreements that would win bipartisan support, he said.
‘We have to evolve’
The party switch is a remarkable turnaround for the Mecklenburg County representative who rested on her reputation as a public school supporter when she first joined the House in 2007 as a former classroom teacher and administrator. Most of the bills she sponsored in her first two sessions dealt with school issues.
When addressing education issues on Wednesday, she talked about charters.
“On issues, like school choice, like charters, we have to evolve,” she said. “One-size-fits-all is wrong for children.”
She also supported reproductive rights.
In 2013, she voted against a law that prevents insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act marketplace from covering abortion, prevents local governments from covering abortions in their insurance plans, and requires doctors be present when women take their first dose of abortion pills.
In 2015, she voted against abortion restrictions that extended the waiting period for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours. Before voting against the bill, she spoke about her own abortion of a non-viable pregnancy.
She now joins a Republican House caucus that is debating further limits on abortion rights. At the news conference, she refused to say what she thought about proposed abortion bans after six weeks or 12 weeks. Three Republicans have filed a bill banning most abortions at conception. That bill is not expected to become law.
“I’m not going to give any type of number,” she said.
“If you go back into my history, you will note that I was never someone that this was the biggest issue facing women in North Carolina. I believe women are much more,” Cotham said.
She said she would research an abortion bill, “talk to others, I will have these internal dialogues very, very much.”
Equality NC gave her its Legislative Leadership Award in 2013, calling her “a champion for equality and LGBT issues.” The recognition said she was a leading opponent of a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions.
Praise from the far right, calls for resignation
Joining the Republican news conference Wednesday was U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, a Republican known in the state for sponsoring what was known as the “bathroom bill,” which required transgender people use public bathrooms that matched the gender on their birth certificates.
Bishop said he and Cotham have been friends for years, even though they’ve had “disagreements over political issues from time to time.”
“I’m glad to be here with my friend today,” Bishop said. “I think Tricia is making the right decision. She is a strong woman and a strong leader.”
Cotham served in the House through 2016. She lost a congressional primary that year. Former state House member, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, topped the primary field.
During some of her time out of office, Cotham was president of Achievement for All Children, a company that helped lead a failed school turnaround effort in Robeson County.
She worked as a lobbyist from 2018-2021, lobbying most recently for Primero Games, Challenge Foundation Properties, and CareSource Management Services Co.
Her 2022 statement of economic interest lists no current employer.
When she ran last year to return to the legislature, one of her Facebook posts said “I’m running to represent House District 112 because North Carolina needs experienced, progressive leadership that will fight to expand health care access, invest in our public schools, and grow our economy in an equitable way.”
A Facebook post urging voters to get to the polls for her primary featured a picture of President Joe Biden. She won the general election last year with about 59% of the vote.
She represents a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic. Biden won the district with nearly 61% of the vote in 2020.
As news spread Tuesday that Cotham was switching parties, she faced calls to resign from Reives, the state Democratic Party, and others.
The Equality NC PAC endorsed Cotham in her primary last year. On Tuesday, the organization joined the chorus calling for her resignation.
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