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NC House Democrat to switch parties, creating GOP supermajority

NC legislative building
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Republicans in the state House will now have a supermajority as Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, is expected to announce plans to switch parties.

Updated at 6:25 p.m.

State House Republicans will soon have a veto-proof majority, as a Democrat from Mecklenburg County is expected to announce a party switch on Wednesday.

Rep. Tricia Ann Cotham
North Carolina General Assembly
Rep. Tricia Ann Cotham (D-Mecklenburg)

Rep. Tricia Cotham's move will mean that Republicans have 72 seats in the House — the exact number needed to override any vetoes from Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cotham was elected last year in a left-leaning district in southeastern Mecklenburg County. She'd served in the House for more than a decade before taking a break from the legislature in 2016.

Several Republicans with knowledge of the situation confirmed to WUNC that Cotham has notified her colleagues that she plans to join the GOP caucus.

Cotham made no public statement on Tuesday, but House Speaker Tim Moore has scheduled a Wednesday morning news conference with her at N.C. Republican Party headquarters in Raleigh. Moore declined to comment on Tuesday. Axios Raleigh was the first to report the news on Tuesday.

And on Tuesday afternoon, Cotham moved her seat in the House chamber to the Republican side of the room. Staffers were seen moving a box of her belongings, including a stuffed donkey toy, from her previous desk on the side of the chamber where Democrats side.

Both N.C. Democratic Party chairwoman Anderson Clayton and House Democratic Leader Robert Reives called on Cotham to resign.

"Rep. Tricia Cotham campaigned as a Democrat and supporter of abortion rights, health care, public education, gun safety, and civil rights," Reives said in a news release, adding that her new identity as a Republican is "not the person those constituents campaigned for in a hard primary, and who they championed in a general election in a 60% Democratic district.

"Because of that, the appropriate action is for her to resign so that her constituents are fairly represented in the North Carolina House of Representatives."

Other Democrats also voiced their outrage at the move.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statement calling the move "disappointing."

"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," Cooper said. "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."

Cotham was one of three Democrats absent from a veto override last week on a controversial gun bill. She issued a statement saying she'd missed the session because of treatment for long COVID; she'd previously voted against the bill.

House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters at the beginning of this year's session that he thought several House Democrats might switch parties, but he didn't name them.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.