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Moore ditches trust with win-at-all-costs override vote

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

One of the most significant findings of the 9/11 Commission — the independent panel that studied how ill prepared America was for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — was that America’s leaders dramatically underestimated the ruthlessness and ingenuity of those who wished to do this nation harm. What U.S. leaders ultimately suffered, the report’s authors famously said, was “a lack of imagination.”

We were reminded of that finding last week on a different Sept. 11 following a different failure of imagination and a different underestimation of an adversary.

Nobody died in the Republican-led North Carolina House’s surprise vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto on Wednesday, which happened to be the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. But that’s not to say there weren’t casualties.

House Speaker Tim Moore’s snap decision to hold a vote on the veto override when only half the House’s members were present on the floor — and, more importantly, when a majority of Democrats who would have opposed the override were absent — was a dark day for democracy. It also likely killed any remaining trust our Legislature’s minority party had for the ruling majority party.

Moore’s decision to hold the override vote when such a large number of Democrats, including our own state Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hunter, weren’t present, shouldn’t have come as a total surprise, though. As Moore pointed out after Democrats expressed outrage over his decision, he has wanted to override Cooper’s budget veto since the governor issued it in late June, objecting to the spending plan’s lack of funding for Medicaid expansion and less generous funding for education. The House Speaker was just waiting for the opportune moment to force a vote.

He found it on Wednesday, when either because of miscommunication over whether any floor votes would take place during the House’s morning session — Democrats had been led to believe there wouldn’t be any votes — or a failure to imagine the House Speaker actually holding the override vote with so few members present, Democrats let their guard down. As a result, only nine of their 55-member caucus were on the floor to block an override attempt. By comparison, 55 of 65 Republicans were present and ready to vote, among them Ed Goodwin of Chowan and Bobby Hanig of Currituck.

Moore took full advantage of the opportunity. The vote to override Cooper’s veto was 55-9, meaning only a little more than half the Legislature’s 120 members voted on such a critical matter.

Up until now, Democrats had been able to prevent an override vote. Thanks to the results of the 2018 election, Republicans no longer hold veto-proof majorities in either the House or Senate. That means when Cooper, the state’s Democratic governor, vetoes legislation he disagrees with, the bill can’t become law without at least some Democrats in both chambers supporting a Republican override vote.

Knowing they lacked enough votes to override Cooper’s budget veto when all House members and senators are present, Moore and his GOP counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Phil Berger, had embarked on passing so-called “mini-budgets,” measures like raising teacher and state employee pay, for example, that enjoy bipartisan support and even earned the governor’s signature.

Continuing to pass mini-budgets during the impasse over the larger budget could have built trust between legislative Republicans and Democrats. It also could have helped effect an eventual compromise on Medicaid expansion and education funding that both lawmakers and the governor could live with.

But Moore ditched any chance of that when he decided to win at all costs and hold the surprise override vote with so many Democrats absent.

Of course, the budget override still isn’t final because the Senate still has to hold its own vote on an override. In contrast to Moore, however, Berger only has to have one Democrat to vote for the override for it to be successful.

Also, unlike the House vote, the Senate’s — when it happens — isn’t supposed to be a surprise. Under current Senate rules, the minority party is supposed to be given 24 hours notice before an override is considered.

We don’t need to remind Democrats, however, that rules can be broken — especially when the game is to win at all costs. Those who believe rule-following still matters in Raleigh could rightly be said to suffer from a lack of imagination.

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