LUMBERTON — Robeson County’s resident Democratic member of the state House objects to the way Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget was overridden Wednesday.
“It was not the way I would have done it,” Rep. Charles Graham said. “I was not pleased it happened this way.”
On a morning when many of the Democratic members were absent, leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives called for a vote on overriding the veto issued by Cooper, a Democrat, on June 28. The members present voted 55 to 15 to override. Next up is the Senate, where Republicans will need at least one Democrat to vote in favor in order to defeat Cooper’s veto.
It takes three-fifths of the members present in the House or the Senate voting in favor to override a veto.
All 15 no votes cast Wednesday were from Democrats. All yes votes were cast by Republicans. Thirty-nine Democrats were recorded on the voting transcript posted on the N.C. General Assembly website as “Not Voting.”
According to General Assembly rules, a member is recorded as not voting if the member was present and chose not to vote, or was present and failed to register his or her vote, or was not present and did not have the absence excused by House or Senate leadership.
The budget has as much as $120 million for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, including $91 million over several years for a health sciences building.
It also has $25.7 million for the Public Schools of Robeson County, $6.5 million for Robeson Community College, $1 million for the town of Pembroke, $125,000 for the Pembroke Rescue Squad, $139,000 for special programs for Robeson County courts and $75,000 for the Sheriff’s Office.
Graham, who had been coy about how he would have voted, was absent. He had said previously he liked the budget, specifically what it delivered to UNCP.
“I missed all the drama,” Graham said. “I’m sorry I missed it.”
The Lumberton resident was on his way to Raleigh when the vote was taken. He had based his travel time on a schedule emailed to all Democrats by House Democratic leader Darren Jackson. That schedule indicated no votes were to be taken until the afternoon session.
“There will be no votes. No votes is what the schedule said,” Graham said.
That’s why most of the 55 House Democrats were not assembled when the vote was called for and taken, he said.
House Speaker Tim Moore had said repeatedly he would call the vote if an opportunity for a successful override vote presented itself, Graham said. Every Democrat understood that.
Rep. Brenden Jones, a Republican whose District 46 covers part of Robeson County, was present for the override vote and he cast a yes vote.
“There was no advanced plan to hold the override vote today, as many members of the Republican Party were also absent,” Jones said. “However, the bill was on the calendar, as it is every day we are in session, and the speaker decided to take an override vote when it became evident that the votes were there for a successful override.”
Moore never said a vote wouldn’t be taken during the morning session, Jones said. The audio recording of Tuesday’s session and the adjournment email indicate that. If any Democrats were confused about whether or not votes were going to be held, they could have contacted Moore’s office.
“It is the duty of the members of the General Assembly to be present for session when there are bills on the calendar,” Jones said.
The House action was hotly criticized on Wednesday.
“This process was unacceptable,” said Rick Glazier, executive director of the NC Justice Center. “All representatives of the people deserved to vote on the budget veto, especially in light of the grave concerns about the priorities set and those missing in the legislative proposal. Keeping them from the table dishonestly is unconscionable.”
Gov. Cooper said during an afternoon press conference that Democrats were misled. He had said he had vetoes the bill because it did not expand Medicaid.
“You look at the number of people who were in that chamber and how many of them were Republicans and how many of them were Democrats.,” Cooper said. “There’s no confusion about what happened here. This was a lie, and we know why they were not there because they were told that there were not going to be votes.”
Minority Leader Jackson said he believed House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis told him any recorded votes Wednesday would be delayed until the afternoon. Lewis said that wasn’t accurate. He said Moore had the authority to decide.
According to information from Speaker Moore’s office, “Contrary to those false claims by House Democrats that they were told there would be no recorded votes in today’s session, two public announcements were made that there would be recorded votes on Wednesday.”
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected] The Associated Press contributed to this report.