In a surprise vote Wednesday morning, Republicans in the North Carolina House moved to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget. The unexpected vote came with just over half of House members present. Of those, 12 were Democrats, and nine voted against the measure.
Two of those Democrats, Rep. Deb Butler of District 18, which covers Brunswick and New Hanover counties. Butler and Rep. Mary Belk of Mecklenburg County, attempted to voice their concerns regarding the surprise vote to House Speaker Tim Moore on the House floor.
"At this moment in time, you are doing the unspeakable," an impassioned Butler said at the time. "Is this the legacy you want? Are you proud of this? Are you proud of yourselves? Look at you. There’s no one here, because we have been deceived."
Democrats say they were told there wouldn’t be any votes taken, a claim Moore later denied.
Butler spoke to WFAE’s Sarah Delia, who asked the state representative about those different messages from Democrats and Republicans. WFAE also reached out to Moore but has not heard back.
Sarah Delia: So, Democrats have said that they were told no votes were going to be held on Wednesday morning, but House Speaker Tim Moore says no such message was ever relayed. Can you tell us what actually happened there?
Deb Butler: Yeah. Speaker Moore's representation is a lie, because the Rules chairman, David Lewis, who is part of leadership, said from the well of the chamber to my leader, Darren Jackson, that there would be no votes. And he further sent a text message to a reporter to that effect, and that is why there was absolutely no media in the chamber at the time the ambush occurred.
Delia: You mentioned that text message to a reporter. Have you seen or has a screenshot of that text message been circulated at all?
Butler: I do believe it has. I haven't physically seen it myself, but I'm told that that's the case, yeah.
Delia: When you realized the vote was happening, what was going through your mind?
Butler: I was just there because I thought we would have a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance as we always do. I knew we were going to honor some first responders in honor of 9/11, so I thought, "Well, let me do that before I run to the redistricting committee."
So, I went over there just for that purpose and it began to unfold so quickly and I just, you know, I guess instinct took over. I grabbed the mic. I tried to impede the process in any way, because the speaker's attempting to rob my colleagues of their vote on the single most important bill, arguably, of the last decade in North Carolina.
And, so, I did what I could, and it was very upsetting as you could tell, and it has sparked the ire of people across this nation.
Delia: Your colleagues kind of surrounding you as you were attempting to be heard — I imagine that was a very surreal and just a lot of emotions and thoughts running through your head. It looked like at one point someone might try to escort you out of the building.
Butler: That would have been the capitol police.
Butler: The capitol police were summoned. The sergeants-at-arms were headed that way, and my colleagues surrounded me and said, "No, you're not going to touch her," and, I mean, I have never been more proud to be a North Carolina Democrat. The solidarity of my fellow caucus members is inspiring, and I'm glad it was captured for the for the world to see because this is the type of "gotcha politics" we've been living with for, well, the better part of a decade.
Delia: House Speaker Tim Moore has said that he heard you make a comment about other Democrats being downstairs at the time of this vote "drawing maps." What do you say to that comment?
Butler: It's preposterous. He knows full well that I am on the redistricting committee because he appointed me to it and we had met earlier. We were going to meet earlier — um, excuse me, a little bit later — that morning.
So, when I said we are over there "drawing maps," I meant the redistricting committee, which is — and remember, we're redrawing the maps because they're hyper-partisan, illegal and unconstitutional gerrymanders, which is what has put these extremists in charge in the first place. So, he knows better than that. That's a pathetic attempt to try to distract from the truth.
Delia: Because he went on to say that if Democrats were indeed drawing maps in secret that would be a clear violation of the court's order. What would you say to that assertion?
Butler: I would say that he is absolutely correct, and that we did not do it, and that he knows that, and we don't even have — we don't have mapmaking software. You know, it's ludicrous. That's the last gasp of a bad excuse right there for his behavior. People are calling for his resignation in the streets this morning, so I'll leave it at that.
Delia: How do Democrats and Republicans move forward and repair this relationship? Is this a relationship that can be repaired at this point?
Butler: Hope springs eternal that good people can always manage to find a way forward. It's going to be very difficult, I'll be honest with you. I think that the temptation of Democrats is going to be in defense of me and in defense of how they've been treated. We will look to strive above that, to not react in the same fashion.
It is going to be difficult, but I'll tell you one thing: If and when we get the reins of North Carolina in 2020, we will not behave in this way, and you're going to see a different standard coming out of our Democratic caucus. We are appalled.