North Carolina Republicans keep canceling votes when all Democrats are present

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Senate Republicans are engaged in the same 'overtly dishonest and corrupt' behavior as House Republicans, state Sen. Jeff Jackson said.

On Thursday, North Carolina Republicans in the state Senate refused to hold a vote to override a budget veto for a novel reason: All the legislators were present.

Republicans do not have the votes to override the governor's veto if a vote is taken with all senators present, so they have repeatedly refused to do so.

On Thursday, state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg County) made a passionate speech demanding Republicans hold the vote.

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"You need to call the vote," Jackson said. "All 50 of us are here," he added, noting all the state senators were present in the room. "It's been on the calendar the last three days. You've canceled it the last three days for one reason — not because people are absent, but people are present."

Jackson questioned the integrity of the Republican majority.

"The fair vote is the one with everybody present," Jackson said. You're maneuvering to try — and you're hoping — to get an unfair vote. Don't you see that's an integrity issue?"

After Jackson repeatedly asked the Republican majority to call the vote, Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Guilford County) seemed to concede Jackson's point.

"We'll call [the vote] at the right time," Tillman said. "I hope you'll miss it, but nevertheless we'll call it."

On a Friday phone call, Jackson said the Republicans in the Senate are "still running the same play" as House Republicans. In early September, House Republicans sprung a surprise vote to override the veto on September 11, when several Democrats were not present and at least one was attending a 9-11 memorial service.

Senate Republicans are seeking to replicate the "overtly dishonest and corrupt" behavior of their House colleagues, according to Jackson. On Thursday, Republicans called "six or seven" 30-minute recesses, hoping Democrats would not return to the chamber. Each time, every Democrat returned, and Republicans eventually canceled the vote.

The same pattern was repeated on Friday morning, according to Jackson. The North Carolina Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment about the veto override vote.

The two major sticking points are education funding levels and a Medicaid expansion. The Medicaid expansion, an option states can implement under the Affordable Care Act that was rejected by the state's Republicans, would help 500,000 to 600,000 North Carolinians obtain health insurance, according to Jackson. The expansion would also add 40,000 jobs, with a disproportionate number of jobs in rural districts mostly represented by Republicans.

The Medicaid expansion would also help combat the opioid epidemic in the state. Jackson chastised Republicans who "rhetorically pledge to combat the opioid crisis, but then don't do the one thing experts say would help the most."

The Republicans are opting for an override strategy and rejecting any attempt to negotiate.

"We're willing to negotiate," Jackson said, acknowledging that the Democrats will not get everything the party wants.

In early July, a few weeks after he vetoed the budget, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper sent Republicans a compromise budget.

"I don't think they [Republicans] even read it," Jackson said.

The underhanded way the House overrode the veto has only led to increased entrenchment by both political parties, Jackson lamented. For Democrats, there is a strong sense that caving to a Republican veto vote would "reward" the bad behavior of the House Republicans.

Senate Republicans are under immense pressure to find a way to veto the budget because House Republicans "got torched" by local and national media after their September surprise vote, and those members don't want to see those antics be all for naught.

Jackson is confident the Senate Democrats will remain united. It would only take one Democrat voting with Republicans to override the veto, or two Democrats to be absent, in order to the GOP to succeed.

Jackson cautioned that any Democrat who sided with the Republicans would "end their political career" in the state.

The legislative session in North Carolina normally ends in July. This year's session is now the second-longest in the state's history, and Jackson worries that Republican intransigence could mean they continue to schedule and cancel votes through the holiday season.

"We should have been done in July," Jackson said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.