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An anti-democratic outrage in North Carolina


I’ve been a state senator in North Carolina for about five years. What happened earlier toady — on 9/11, of all days — was the most remarkable display of dishonesty and disrespect I’ve seen in my time here. And that’s really saying something.

Almost every morning while we’re in session, the General Assembly begins with a “skeletal session.” This is held for procedural reasons; no votes are taken. Gavel in, gavel out. A formality.

Not only is this session a formality, but on this specific occasion, Republican leadership had actually told the Democrats there would be no votes. This is routine. Non-voting sessions happen almost every single day.

But on this morning — after telling Democrats that there would be no votes — the House Republicans used the skeletal session to ambush Democrats with the biggest vote of the year.

At 8:40 a.m., they called a vote on the veto override on our $24 billion budget.

To understand what a big deal this was, you have to know that the (Democratic) governor had vetoed their (Republican-passed) budget about two months ago. Both sides were in the process of negotiating a better budget, with major issues outstanding, including teacher pay and Medicaid expansion.

It’s also important to know that this is the first time in almost a decade that Republicans have actually had to negotiate with Democrats on the budget. Until the last election, the GOP had the votes to override any gubernatorial veto. Now they don’t, and for these folks who were used to absolute power that comedown has been absolutely excruciating.

So they found a way around it. After telling Democrats there would be no votes, they called a vote.

This was while our governor and at least one of our Democratic members were at a ceremony honoring those who died on Sept. 11.

A handful of Democrats were on the floor conducting other business. Rep. Deb Butler, a Democrat from the coast, immediately stood and objected. Other members asked to be recognized so they could object, but the speaker refused to recognize them and proceeded with the vote.

The budget veto was overridden, 55-9.

When they called the surprise vote, barely half the members of the body were present — almost all of them Republicans. They had planned this.

The veto still stands in the Senate, where our members intend to defend it.

In the five years I’ve been in our state Senate, I’ve seen some really bad stuff. Remember the time we passed a discriminatory bill about bathrooms and your state literally banned government travel to my state? That was pretty bad.

But I think this qualifies as a new low. To be openly dishonest and use that to pass the most high-profile legislation of the year is a new level of corruption that I truly hadn’t seen before today.

When I heard about the surprise vote, like any decent politician the first thing I did was check Twitter. And you know the first thing I saw? A string of tweets from House Republicans imploring everyone to honor the memory of Sept. 11.

I’m not sure they understood the irony.

Jackson is a state senator from North Carolina.