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Republicans have North Carolina House supermajority after Rep. Tricia Cotham switch

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

North Carolina politics got a big shake-up today. A longtime Democratic member of the state House of Representatives announced that she is becoming a Republican. Her switch gives the GOP supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, allowing the party to override vetoes of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. And it unleashed a firestorm of criticism from Democrats who called for her to resign. Steve Harrison from member station WFAE has this report.

STEVE HARRISON, BYLINE: Tricia Cotham had been one of the most well-known Democratic politicians in Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, the state's largest city. But on Wednesday morning, Cotham was at the headquarters of the North Carolina Republican Party in Raleigh. In announcing her defection, she blasted other Democrats as close-minded bullies. She said that when she worked with Republicans earlier this year...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRICIA COTHAM: I was considered a traitor, I was told, a spy. Please don't come to caucus. You'll tell everything we know. That is a terrible mentality, and that's just wrong.

HARRISON: Cotham is joining a Republican Party that's firmly entrenched in power in North Carolina with no signs of losing it. While Democrats in last year's midterm election did better than expected nationally, in North Carolina, Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat, added to their majority in the state legislature and swept statewide judicial races. And with Cotham's move, North Carolina Republicans have even more power. Democratic state party chair Anderson Clayton led a rally after the news broke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDERSON CLAYTON: Representative Cotham's decision to switch parties is a deceit of the highest order. It is a betrayal to the people of Mecklenburg County. Reproductive freedoms are on the line. Our public schools are on the line. LGBTQ rights are on the line.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

CLAYTON: Voting rights are on the line.

HARRISON: The GOP has enough members in the legislature to override Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's vetoes. That means they could place new limits on abortion, which is now legal at 20 weeks. North Carolina is a destination for many women across the South, where states have severely restricted abortions in the past year. Ten years ago, Cotham stunned lawmakers when she announced on the House floor that she had previously had an abortion for medical reasons and is now downplaying what her party's switch might mean for abortion access in the state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COTHAM: I believe women are much more. We're business owners. We help create economies. We raise families. We carry it all. And so to always be tried just for that tragic, hard topic is wrong.

HARRISON: When Cotham campaigned last fall, she ran on LGBT and abortion rights in a blue district that President Biden won easily. Now, the state's House Democratic leader called on Cotham to resign, and one advocacy group called her turncoat Tricia. For NPR News, I'm Steve Harrison in Raleigh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Harrison