What does Rep. Cotham’s Switch Mean for N.C. Blacks?By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / April 13, 2023
State Rep. Tricia Ann Cotham could have easily changed her party affiliation from Democrat to unaffiliated, but she didn’t. She went full stop Republican, effectively giving her former party the back of her hand, sending tremors through an already dispirited North Carolina Democratic Party, and Governor Roy Cooper.“The party that best represents me and my principles and what’s best for North Carolina is the Republican Party,” she said during a press conference at NCGOP headquarters in Raleigh last week.
Political analyst Thomas Mills wasn’t buying it in his weekly newsletter Politics North Carolina.
“She embraced the party whose values she rejected just a few months ago,” he wrote. “She didn’t have an epiphany. She had a temper tantrum and pity party. She just wanted somebody to be nice to her. That’s pathetic.”
The Black Political Caucus of Mecklenburg County, which endorsed Cotham in 2022, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP, were also not impressed.
“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,” the caucus said in a statement. “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.”
Black Facebook poster Cathay Dawkins lamented, “NO SHAME! She USED Black & Brown voters & organizers to win her seat and has now switched parties. NOT OK! Tricia Cotham!”
Next to her post, Dawkins posted a screenshot of Cotham’s May 18, 2022 Facebook post showing several pictures of Black primary campaign workers proudly displaying “Tricia Cotham “ campaign signs and t-shirts under Cotham’s message “We did it!”
To understand the enormity of Rep. Cotham’s switch, and the scale of damage it may have done to the immediate future of North Carolina Democratic politics, particularly to African Americans, consider these facts.
Tricia Cotham took office January 1st, 2023 for her current term, representing N.C. House District 112, which comprises much of east Charlotte (including her hometown of Mint Hill), and borders Cabarrus and Union counties.
Observers say it is a fast growing suburban district.
Almost nine percent of Rep. Cotham’s district is Black, according to Ballotpedia.
Having previously served in the state House from 2007 to 2016, Rep. Cotham won a four-candidate primary last May 2022 by 47.81 percent, and her general election in November by 59.22 percent, so clearly Black voter support played a role in her election.
“For a representative that has served five terms in the House, that…means increased accountability to Black and Brown voters at a time when racial tensions and political tensions go hand in hand,” said Advance North Carolina- a Black and progressive issues 501 (c)4 advocacy group – in a statement.
“This is not about political vendettas, this is about the constituents,” N.C. Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton said during a press conference after Cotham announced her switch last week. “This is about honesty and accountability to the people who elected her.”
It’s also about being loyal to one’s party and its issues, critics say.
Gov. Cooper was hoping that the one vote advantage he enjoyed in the formally 71-49 GOP majority state House to stop a Republican supermajority vote would hold for the last two years of his term (the state Senate won a 30 to 20 supermajority in November).
But with Cotham’s long rumored switch last week, the GOP now has their required three-fifths-72-out-120-vote supermajority over the governor’s veto, and with it, the ability not only to pass any controversial bill from their current agenda, like their anti-Black history teaching restrictions; ending abortion rights in North Carolina or measures targeting the LGBTQ community, but even bills Cooper vetoed in the past that now he can’t stop.
And under new rules, the GOP majority does not have to give prior notice of when veto override votes will be taken, as long as 72 House Republicans are present.
Her 2022 campaign website has now been taken down, but according to published reports, when Cotham ran last year, it said she supported raising the minimum wage, was pro-education, and “…was proud to [have sponsored] legislation to expand access to voter registration for young people, enact same-day registration, and extend early voting to include Sunday voting when many organizations conducted ‘Souls to the Polls’.” wrote columnist Thomas Mills. “I wonder how that will sit with her new colleagues? Did she believe all that stuff or, nah, it was just what her Democratic voters wanted to hear?”
Her father was chair of the Mecklenburg Democratic Party, and her mother is a longtime Democratic commissioner on the Mecklenburg County Commission. Cothan’s ex-husband, Jerry Meek, was once chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party, so her “blue dog” pedigree was well known.
In 2016, Cotham ran for the 12th Congressional District, but lost to incumbent Democrat Rep. Alma Adams. Cotham then worked in the private sector, and later became a lobbyist until she ran again in 2022 for the state House.
But the damage to Black and other constituents doesn’t stop there.
Upon hearing of her former opponent’s switch, Rep. Adams issued a statement saying, “The women who will have fewer rights over their own body will be victims.
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.
“And most of all, the Mecklenburg County voters disenfranchised by this decision are the victims,” Adams continued.
Cotham had already gained a reputation for voting with Republicans on several occasions, like for the recently passed GOP bill to mandate county sheriffs cooperate with ICE agents tracking illegal immigrants. But at least when it counted, she could be depended on to remain in the Democratic fold. Now, with her dramatic switch fueled by charges of Democratic bullying and intimidation, Cotham’s GOP vote on a variety of veto override issues seems assured, to the chagrin of her former Democratic colleagues.
Amid a group of fellow Democrats holding signs displaying one word, “RESIGN” at last week’s press conference, NCDP Chair Anderson Clayton called Cotham’s switch “…a deceit of the highest order [and] a betrayal of the people of Mecklenburg County…”
Even the White House joined the fray, denouncing Cotham’s move.
As a reward for her switch, GOP House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters that Cotham’s Democratic district will probably be redrawn to lean more Republican this summer.
Moore added Rep. Cotham “…wasn’t the only Democrat we’ve had great conversations with.”