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North Carolina Democrat Switches to Republican, Giving GOP Veto-Proof Supermajority

Tricia Cotham
Hannah Schoenbaum/AP

North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham announces she is switching her party affiliation to the GOP at a news conference in Raleigh on April 5, 2023.

State Rep. Tricia Cotham, who won as a Democrat in her blue district last fall by nearly 20 points, said at a news conference in Raleigh that "the modern-day Democratic Party has become unrecognizable to me."

(CNN) — North Carolina Republicans gained a veto-proof supermajority in the state House after a Charlotte-area Democrat announced Wednesday she was switching parties.

State Rep. Tricia Cotham, who won as a Democrat in her blue district last fall by nearly 20 points, said at a news conference in Raleigh that "the modern-day Democratic Party has become unrecognizable to me."

"I am no longer a Democrat, but I remain a public servant, that is what I am called to do. The party that represents me and my principles and what is best for North Carolina is the Republican Party," Cotham, wearing a red dress and surrounded by her new Republican colleagues, said outside the state GOP headquarters in Raleigh.

"I am a single mom of two amazing sons, a teacher, a small-business owner, a woman with strong faith, a national championship basketball coach, and a public servant. Today I add Republican to that list," she said, noting that she had "been welcomed with open arms" by her new colleagues.

Cotham's switch could have major implications for lawmaking in the Tar Heel State. Republicans already held a supermajority in the North Carolina Senate. Cotham's flip gives them 72 seats in the state House — and enough votes in both chambers to override any veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cotham's plan to switch parties was first reported by Axios. CNN has reached out to Cotham about the party switch.

Cotham served in the state House as a Democrat for nearly a decade before stepping away in 2016. She ran again in 2022, winning a crowded Democratic primary and then the general election for the newly drawn House District 112 in southeastern Mecklenburg County.

At the news conference Wednesday, Cotham said that "the turning point for me was when I was criticized for using the American flag and the praying hands emoji on all my social media platforms and even on the back of different vehicles that I have."

"I really could not believe that that was the conversations that was happening at that time, and I was deeply offended," she said, adding that "to say that that is wrong and not to be able to show off a flag because the others hijack it for something else, why are we at this place in politics?"

North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement Wednesday that Cotham's announcement "continues to reflect that the Democratic Party is too radical for North Carolina."

"The values of the Republican Party align with voters, and the People of Mecklenburg County should be proud to have her representation in Raleigh," he said.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also welcomed Cotham to the GOP, saying in a statement Wednesday, "Even in a Biden district in a purple state, Democrats are reading the writing on the wall: liberal policies are too extreme and they're failing Americans."

'Political earthquake'

Democrats reacted to Cotham's decision with anger and disappointment.

"Rep. Cotham's votes on women's reproductive freedom, election laws, LGBTQ rights and strong public schools will determine the direction of the state we love. It's hard to believe she would abandon these long held principles and she should still vote the way she has always said she would vote when these issues arise, regardless of party affiliation," Cooper said in the statement to CNN on Tuesday.

Newly elected North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton called on the state legislator to resign from her seat.

"Rep. Cotham's decision to switch parties is a deceit of the highest order. It is a betrayal to the people of Mecklenburg County, with repercussions not only for the people of her district, but for the entire state of North Carolina," Clayton said at a Wednesday news conference in Raleigh outside party headquarters with other Democrats and residents of Cotham's district. "Reproductive freedoms are on the line. Our public schools are on the line. LGBTQ rights are on the line. Voting rights are on the line. Our future as a state is on the line."

"This is not about political vendettas. This is about the constituents that trusted Rep. Cotham to champion their values, who are now left with little reassurance that she will do that," Clayton added. "HD112 is a 60 percent Democratic district, y'all. And they did not choose to elect a Republican. They chose to elect a Democrat."

Cameron Pruette, the chair of the LGBTQ+ Democrats of Mecklenburg County, said at the news conference, "I knew there was a problem, when we invited Tricia Cotham to the Human Rights Campaign dinner a few weeks ago, she didn't show up. Is this a premeditated move? How long has she known? The voters deserve to know."

US Rep. Jeff Jackson, a former state senator who represents parts of Mecklenburg County, tweeted Wednesday that Cotham's decision represented a "political earthquake" that "will have major consequences for millions of people."

"While we don't know how she will vote on any given bill, dozens of bills that were essentially dead — from elections law changes to reproductive freedom to LGBTQ rights to education policy — may have just sprung back to life," he said. "And the state budget — which controls education funding — can now be passed entirely on the basis of Republican votes."

"There are no recall provisions in North Carolina. She will be able to serve her full two-year term, which just began in January. For that period, Republicans will now be in full control," Jackson said.

Cotham's campaign website, which still listed her as a Democrat as of Wednesday afternoon, touted priorities such as protecting voting rights, affordable housing, health care and equitable public schools, among other issues. Under a section entitled "Equality for All," Cotham calls herself a "champion of LGBTQ+ rights" and states, "Right now, LGBTQ+ youth are under attack by Republican state legislatures across the country. I will stand strong against discriminatory legislation and work to pass more protections at the state level."

Cotham ran for election last year with the endorsement of EMILY's List, which backs female Democratic supporters of abortion rights.

Last week, North Carolina Republicans overrode Cooper's veto to enact legislation softening permit requirements for pistol purchases. The absence of three Democrats in the state House, including Cotham, allowed Republicans to push through the override.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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