Inside the Party Switch that Blew Up North Carolina Politics

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When Tricia Cotham, a former Democratic lawmaker, was considering running for the North Carolina House of Representatives again, she sought advice from a powerful party leader. Surprisingly, the influential people who privately encouraged her to run were Republicans, not Democrats. Among them were Tim Moore, the Republican speaker of the state House, and John Bell, the Republican majority leader. Cotham won the primary in a redrawn district and went on to win the November general election, helping Democrats prevent a Republican supermajority in the state House by a single vote.

What was even more surprising was that Cotham, three months after taking office, switched parties and cast a decisive vote to override a veto by the state’s Democratic governor and enact a 12-week limit on most abortions. This move made her a heroine to Republicans and anti-abortion advocates, but infuriated Democrats and abortion rights supporters.

Cotham’s switch of parties has left many of her constituents feeling angry and betrayed. Republicans have used their new supermajority to overturn several vetoes by the Democratic governor. Cotham, on the other hand, defends her switch and claims to have delivered on many promises she made to voters, including supporting Medicaid expansion and increasing healthcare options.

Cotham’s switch has dealt a severe blow to Democratic policy goals in North Carolina. Before switching parties, she skipped a crucial gun-control vote and helped Republicans loosen gun restrictions in the state. As a Republican, she sponsored a bill to expand student eligibility for private-school vouchers, voted against gender-affirming care for minors, and voted to ban discussions of race or gender in state job interviews.

Cotham’s switch has received mixed reactions within the Republican Party. She received a standing ovation at the state Republican convention and was invited to meet privately with Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and former Vice President Mike Pence. However, some Democrats who had known her for years feel betrayed by her actions.

Cotham came from a family with strong ties to the Democratic Party and had campaigned as a progressive on social issues. However, she grew alienated from Democratic Party officials and ideals over time. Republican leaders took advantage of her growing estrangement and convinced her to switch parties. Cotham felt that she did not receive the gratitude or spotlight she deserved as a Democrat and was jealous of other Democrats who were getting more attention.

Before entering politics, Cotham worked as a lobbyist focused on education. Her firm supported private investments in the public school system and charter schools, even though she had criticized charter schools while in office. In 2019, she became the president of an education organization and was chosen to turn around a struggling public school.

Cotham’s switch has had a significant impact on Democratic policy goals in North Carolina. Despite her claims of delivering on promises to voters, many Democrats feel that she has betrayed their trust.

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