Speaker Tim Moore used his gavel last week to give North Carolina Republicans a big legislative win. He also gave Governor Roy Cooper a club to wield against Republicans.
It was one of those rare times when a legislative moment bursts into a reality-TV moment.
Last Wednesday morning, the Speaker called for a surprise vote to override the Governor’s veto of the legislature’s budget. Most Democrats weren’t in the chamber, but Republicans were. The override passed.
The Democrats went ballistic. They said Republicans had lied and told them there would be no floor votes that morning.
Representative Deb Butler of Wilmington angrily berated the Speaker: “Mr. Speaker, you are making a mockery of this process. You are deceiving all of North Carolina.”
When Moore tried to cut her off, she thundered, “I will not yield! I will not yield!”
There were no TV cameras on hand, but Democratic Rep. John Autry of Charlotte pulled out his cell phone and recorded the raw scene. It went viral. Now T-shirts are being sold online with Butler’s image and “I will not yield!”
Within hours, Governor Cooper was on television calling it a “deceptive, surprise override of my budget veto” and accusing Republicans of using “bribes and lies” in the vote and in redistricting.
As I watched this unfold, I thought about something my friend Carter Wrenn, a veteran Republican political consultant, always said: “There are two worlds in politics – the inside world and the outside world.”
The inside world is the 2,000 or so people who are in and out of the Legislative Building every day: legislators, staffers, reporters, lobbyists and all the people who are deeply invested and involved in state government day in and day out. They live it and breathe it.
Then, Carter said, there’s the outside world: the world of almost seven million registered voters in North Carolina.
Most of the time, the outside world pays little attention to the inside world. But, now and then, something happens inside that gets attention outside. Usually, it’s something that makes people mad.
That can be explosive. Because, ultimately, the source of all political power is the outside world. That’s the world of voters – and elections. Nobody gets power in the inside world without winning in the outside world. When voters on the outside get riled up, they can wreak havoc on the inside.
Now the question is how Moore’s ploy will play in the outside world.
Do voters care? Some insiders said that what Moore did was business as usual, there’s nothing new about parliamentary trickery and both parties do it. They said Cooper and the Democrats are whining because they got outfoxed.
Even some Democrats were critical of the House Democrats. One texted me, “You know what’s a lot worse than Republicans lying about the vote? Falling for it.”
On the other hand, one nonpartisan veteran of legislative wars said, “It was the most underhanded thing I’ve seen in 30 years.”
Regardless of what insiders say, what matters is what happens in the outside world – the 2020 elections.
Democrats are using the episode to fire up activists and donors.
In a fundraising email titled “we will not yield,” Governor Cooper said: “These officials were elected under illegally gerrymandered districts and I believe they are the last gasp of a dying majority….Together, we can ensure that they answer to the people of North Carolina.”
Speaker Moore posted a long “true recap…to debunk outrageously false claims that House Republicans misled their Democratic colleagues.”
The fight moves to the outside world.