Apr 4, 2023 - News

Tricia Cotham, a Charlotte Democrat switching parties, is a former educator from a family of politicians

Rep. Tricia Cotham of Charlotte

This week, NC Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Democrat, is expected to announce that she is switching party affiliations, further cementing Republican power in a fast-changing swing state.

Why it matters: The move hands Republicans a veto-proof majority in the middle of the legislative session, as Axios’ Lucille Sherman reported.

Zoom out: Cotham, a former CMS Teacher of the Year and assistant principal of East Mecklenburg and Independence high schools, is the mother of two boys and lives in Charlotte.

She comes from a family of Democratic lawmakers. Most notably, she’s the daughter of longtime popular Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham.

  • Tricia’s great-grandmother, who was active in Harry Truman’s campaign, was a Missouri delegate to the 1948 Democratic National Convention, the Observer reported in 2007.
  • Her cousin, Democrat Emily Cain — who now works to support female Democrats running for office — was once the youngest lawmaker in Maine.

[Go deeper: NC Democrat expected to change parties]

Flashback: Cotham first took office in 2007 after being tapped by party leaders to replace Democratic house speaker Jim Black, as the Observer reported. At 28, she became one of North Carolina’s youngest lawmakers.

  • “They want a new face for the Democratic Party,” Cotham said, according to a 2007 Observer story. “And they want somebody who will play fair. And I’ll play fair.”

Zoom in: Cotham won her seat with 59% of the vote in November to Republican opponent Tony Long’s 41%. She defeated three opponents in a crowded primary.

  • District 112, in northeast Charlotte, is a new district created as a result of redistricting. It leans Democrat, with 61% voting for Biden in 2020, per state data.

Cotham earned a reputation as a swing vote because of her willingness to vote with Republicans on certain key bills, per the Observer. Recently, she faced backlash for skipping a vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that relaxes some gun laws.

The other side: North Carolina Democratic Party chairperson Anderson Clayton and Mecklenburg County Democratic Party chairperson Jane Whitley slammed Tricia Cotham’s move as “deceit of the highest order.”

  • “Rep. Cotham’s decision is a betrayal to the people of HD-112 with repercussions not only for the people of her district, but for the entire state of North Carolina,” they said in a joint statement. “If she can no longer represent the values her constituents trusted her to champion, she should resign immediately.” 

What they’re saying: Tricia Cotham did not respond to Axios’ request for comment.

Her mother, Pat Cotham, told Axios that she has worried about Tricia’s safety. She says it seemed to her like Tricia was feeling rejected by the party.

  • “I’m sad that it’s come to this,” Cotham said.

The Mecklenburg County Republican Party said in a statement that Rep. Cotham has “been doing the right thing by her family, her students, her constituents and North Carolinians throughout her career.”

“She deserves our respect and the benefit of the doubt that she will continue this meritorious service for years to come,” the statement read in part.

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