Fact Check: Tricia Cotham says Reives encouraged 'us to resign' after missing key vote
It’s time for a fact-check of North Carolina politics. This week we’re looking at a claim made by state Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County, who made national news last month when she switched parties from Democrat to Republican.
During a press conference explaining the switch on April 5, Cotham accused Democrats of bullying her. She also cited a statement from House Minority Leader Robert Reives after she missed a crucial vote.
“When Representative Reives sent out a statement last week encouraging us to resign and/or a primary challenge, really showed the low blow of where we are in this institution,” Cotham said.
For more, we're going to turn now to Paul Specht of WRAL.
Marshall Terry: OK, Paul. What statement from Minority Leader Reives is Cotham referring to there?
Paul Specht: It appears that she's referring to a statement that Reives put out on March 29. And I say appears because we reached out to her on multiple occasions, multiple ways, and she would not provide any insight. She has not commented for the story.
But on March 29, exactly a week before her announcement, the North Carolina House of Representatives voted to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of a bill that would essentially loosen pistol permit laws. They were able to do so in part because Cotham and two other Democrats were absent. After the vote, Reives put out a statement saying, today is a bad day for people who want, you know, safer communities and so on. There's a line in there saying, elections have consequences. If you don't like today's consequences, remember to vote. And of course, I'm paraphrasing, but that's the statement in question.
Terry: So did Reives' statement include that part, encouraging lawmakers to resign or face a primary challenge, as Cotham claimed?
Specht: It did not include any call to resign, period — either explicitly or subtly. It did not call on anyone to resign. She and others may interpret the statement as a call to go participate in primaries, but these things are not explicit. But you can see, if you read the statement, where Cotham might interpret this as a jab in her direction. She missed the vote because she was out, she says, getting COVID treatment. She has long COVID. She's talked about that. And that morning she had to be somewhere getting treatment for that.
Well, the statement that came out later that day after the vote, it says, true defenders of public safety were able to make the vote. I'm paraphrasing again, quote, "This includes one House Democrat who is suffering from multiple bone fractures, postponed necessary surgery to travel to Raleigh just for this vote, and another who came to vote despite his mother passing away this week." So you can see she missed it for medical reasons. Other people also had reasons to skip that vote. But he's praising them for coming anyway.
And then the last line is where one might view as a call to primary Democrats who didn't vote the, quote-unquote, right way. It says, quote, "Elections have consequences if voters want a different direction on gun safety. The 2024 primary and general elections are their only avenue for change." And that's where it ends.
Terry: Now, Cotham during this press conference, said Reives never talked to her all session. But he showed you text exchanges, including about this bill, this gun permit bill. What do those show?
Specht: Well, the screenshots appear to show, at least, a fairly friendly relationship between the two. The screenshots Reives provided date back to November. They show two people exchanging information about, you know, where Cotham would be that day when there were votes, questions about bills.
The day of this pistol permit repeal veto override she had informed him that she may not be there because of her treatment, but she did say, according to the screenshots, quote, "I will try to make this vote."
Terry: So how did you rate this claim by Tricia Cotham?
Specht: We rated this one mostly false. There is no explicit call for Cotham to resign because of any vote she took. They did call on her to resign after she switched parties — the Democrats did. But the week prior to this announcement, we could not find any proof that Reives specifically had called on her to resign, nor did he explicitly call on her to face a primary challenge.
Now, one could interpret that statement he put out on March 29 as sort of a veiled call for someone to primary Cotham and other Democrats who missed that vote. We're taking that as sort of a sliver, a small element of truth, here. That's what makes this mostly false rather than full, complete false.