Apr 6, 2023 - News

Republicans celebrate, Democrats call it a betrayal: How North Carolina is reacting to Rep. Tricia Cotham’s party switch

Rep. Tricia Cotham of Charlotte

Mecklenburg County state legislator Tricia Cotham’s flip to join the Republican Party just five months after she was elected as a Democrat has sparked outrage and calls for resignation in her district.

Yes, but: Republicans celebrated the move, which now gives them a supermajority in the North Carolina General Assembly. They described her decision as evidence for the inability to disagree within the Democratic Party.

  • “Unfortunately, it’s become increasingly apparent that there is no room for independent thinkers in today’s Democratic Party in either Raleigh or our nation’s capital,” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said in a statement.

The other side: Charlotte Democrats say Cotham deceived her constituents in a district that is heavily Democratic.

Newly-elected U.S. House Rep. Jeff Jackson said on Twitter he has heard from Cotham’s constituents who are “in a state of shock.”

Charlotte’s other member of Congress, U.S. House Rep. Alma Adams, said in a statement provided to Axios she does not condone the personal attacks on Cotham. But she said there will be victims of her decision.

  • “The women who will have fewer rights over their own body will be victims,” she said. “Students living in fear of gun violence will be victims. Transgender people who want to live their lives as their authentic selves will be victims.
  • “Most of all, the Mecklenburg County voters disenfranchised by this decision are the victims.”

Rev. Ray McKinnon, who has served various roles in the Democratic Party, said he’s known Cotham for years, and felt personally betrayed by her decision. He once appeared in a commercial in support of her campaign for Congress.

  • He says he doesn’t believe her reasons for leaving.
  • “She knew she was putting us in harm’s way: Black people, queer people, women and any other people who want to determine when or if they will be pregnant,” he says. “And she did that for the pettiest of reasons.”

The big picture: Cotham’s decision could help Republicans pass key parts of their agenda. And Democrats slammed Cotham for enabling that, including possibly implementing new restrictions on abortion.

  • Cotham, who has said she had an abortion due to a life-threatening medical condition, refused to commit to a position on abortion, saying she wouldn’t discuss legislation that has yet to be introduced but that she’s “still the same person.”
  • “If you go back into my history, you will know I was never someone [who thought this] was the biggest issue facing women in North Carolina,” Cotham said in a press conference explaining her decision this morning. “And so to always be tied just to that tragic, hard topic is wrong.”

Cotham announced her decision after missing a vote to overturn Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 41, which relaxes some gun laws. She said her absence was due to a medical visit related to long COVID, but it sparked backlash from her party.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, a Democrat, said he made multiple telephone calls to Cotham and showed up at her office about the legislation without receiving a response.

  • “The people of Mecklenburg County deserve better than an elected representative, regardless of her political party, who won’t return a phone call, a voicemail, an email, or a personal note left at her office, when those messages are from the Sheriff, regardless of his political party, who wants to talk about legislation affecting public safety, law enforcement, the Sheriff’s duties and responsibilities or – in the case of SB41 – all of the above,” McFadden said in a statement.

Here are some other notable reactions:

“Regrettably, her shift in values appears to align her more closely with a political faction with a troubling history of policies and rhetoric aimed at suppressing the voices of marginalized groups, including African Americans and women. In embracing this extreme faction, Rep. Cotham has betrayed the trust we placed in her, and we fear that this decision may have severe consequences for the very people she was elected to serve.” — The Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

I’m supporting @triciacotham a good person. Sadly too many people in politics today make their decisions based on labels instead of quality, integrity and solutions. People are more important than politics and personal working relationships are the solutions to better government.” — Joel Ford, former Democratic North Carolina State senator from Mecklenburg County.

“This is not about political vendettas. This is about the constituents that trusted Rep. Cotham to champion their values, who are now left with little reassurance that she will do that.” — Anderson Clayton, chairperson of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

“Welcome, Rep. @triciacotham, to the Republican Party! I am no longer the only Republican serving Meck County in the NC House.” — North Carolina House Rep. John Bradford, who represents north Mecklenburg.

“Her voters deserve to know right now where she stands on abortion access in this state.” — Cameron Pruette, chair of LGBTQ+ MeckDems.

“I’ve watched for years the Democrats range in their actions from lacking respect… to all out attacks. Today we get to showcase what so many of us already know in North Carolina … that the Republican Party is the party of inclusion, and the big tent.” —  Republican Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari.

“She pledged to fight for a higher minimum wage, equitable funding for schools and expanded voting rights. These are the things that Democrats believe. By switching her political affiliation, she has now aligned herself with those working in direct opposition to those ideas. It is a betrayal to the voters of her district, her city, her county and her state.” — Elizabeth Goodwin, president of Democratic Women of North Carolina.

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