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Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson watches as Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, addresses colleagues. (Screen shot from ncleg.gov)

History suggests Democratic legislators are unlikely to buck Cooper on veto

Parents across North Carolina shouldn’t place any bets on Democratic lawmakers helping to ensure a public school reopening bill moves forward. History suggests those lawmakers will side with Gov. Roy Cooper, who vetoed the bill Friday.

Only one of the three Democratic state senators who originally voted for the reopening bill, Senate Bill 37, ever has cast a “yes” vote to override a Cooper veto. No current Democratic senator ever has changed his initial vote from “no” to “yes” to support an override of Cooper.

Cooper sent his veto to the Senate at 4:47 p.m. Friday, nine days after lawmakers finalized the bill. The governor announced his decision one day before a constitutional deadline required him to act.

For S.B. 37 to become law now, both the Senate and House would need to approve the measure again with three-fifths majorities, or 60% of the vote. The Senate must take the first vote since the bill started in that chamber.

Both the House and Senate initially approved the measure with votes exceeding the three-fifths threshold. But those totals included Democrats voting alongside Republican majorities. Recent history suggests those same Democratic votes will be harder to secure for a veto override.

Democratic Sens. Ben Clark, Kirk deViere, and Paul Lowe all cast “yes” votes on the final version of S.B. 37.

  • Clark has had nine prior opportunities since 2017 to confirm an initial “yes” vote and oppose a Cooper veto. In all nine cases, Clark has sided with the governor.
  • DeViere has had two previous chances to confirm an initial “yes” vote and oppose Cooper’s veto. In both cases, he sided with the governor.
  • Lowe has had five previous opportunities to oppose a Cooper veto after initially voting “yes” on a bill. He has supported a veto override in just one of those cases. Lowe also cast a second “yes” vote on a veto override after being absent on the day senators cast their initial votes on the bill. It’s worth noting that both of Lowe’s “yes” votes on veto overrides took place in 2018, when Republicans held legislative supermajorities and didn’t need Democratic votes to overcome Cooper’s opposition.

If every senator shows up for a veto override vote, Republicans would need two Democrats to join them to meet the three-fifths threshold. If  they can’t get two votes from among the three initial Democratic “yes” votes, they would need to flip “no” votes from Democratic senators. That hasn’t happened in the Senate since Cooper took office in 2017.

One Democrat — Sen. Ernestine Bazemore — was absent during the initial vote on S.B. 37. Bazemore is a first-term senator. She never has cast a vote on a veto override.

Within the current Senate Democratic caucus, only two other members have confirmed initial “yes” votes and opposed Cooper on a veto override.

  • Sen. Don Davis has had 12 opportunities to confirm an initial “yes” vote and oppose Cooper. He has voted against the governor four times, the last time in April 2019. (In that case, Davis’ vote to help override the governor on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act generated significant criticism from Democratic activists.)
  • Sen. Mike Woodard has had five opportunities to confirm an initial “yes” vote and oppose Cooper. He has done so twice, the last time in June 2018.

Other current Democratic senators who have had a chance to confirm a “yes” vote and support an override of a Cooper veto:

  • Sen. Dan Blue (0-2)
  • Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (0-2)
  • Sen. Toby Fitch (0-1)
  • Sen. Valerie Foushee (0-3)
  • Sen. Jeff Jackson (0-2)
  • Sen. Gladys Robinson (0-2)
  • Sen. Joyce Waddell (0-3)

So the odds don’t look particularly good for Republicans to secure the 30 votes they will need to override Cooper in the Senate on S.B. 37. They will need to convince a couple of Democrats that school reopening is more important than allegiance to Cooper.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...