Cooper targets swing district lawmakers without reaching out to them first

Photo courtesty of David Cobb, office of House Rules Chairman Destin Hall.

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  • "He has made a career out of attacking Republicans," Bradford said. "His actions play to the radical left that favors full-term and partial-birth abortions—a position not supported by mainstream voters."

Governor Roy Cooper mentioned four Republican lawmakers in a video put out last week in an effort to increase political pressure on them for the upcoming abortion vote. Additionally, Cooper scheduled visits to their districts for a pressure campaign to “hold them accountable” to their voters.

Surprisingly, Cooper has not contacted any of the four lawmakers to discuss the bill, according to the lawmakers and sources close to them.

The four Republicans who Cooper has his sights set on are Reps. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg; Ted Davis, R-New Hanover; and John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg; and Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.

Senate Bill 20 passed the House with a veto-proof margin, while the Senate passed the bill 29-20 with one Republican, Sen. Todd Johnson, R-Union, absent. Johnson plans to vote in favor of the bill when it comes back.

Cooper says he will veto the bill on Saturday, sending it back to the legislature for reconsideration by both House and Senate chambers. Leaders in both chambers plan to hold successful votes to override Cooper’s veto, which would make the bill law.

Cooper would need at minimum one Republican to vote against his veto override, which is why he started the pressure campaign.

Mecklenburg republicans: John Bradford and Tricia Cotham

Both of the Mecklenburg Republicans said Cooper had made no efforts to reach out to them regarding Senate Bill 20.

“I have not heard from the Governor directly,” Bradford said. “In fact, I am serving my 4th term in the legislature, and he wouldn’t know me if he bumped into me.”

Bradford pointed to a time last year when Cooper specifically excluded him even though he was the main bill sponsor.

“For example, last session, I was the primary bill sponsor for an organ donor transplant discrimination bill,” Bradford said. “Governor Cooper held a public bill signing event but chose not to invite me, the number one primary sponsor and Republican, and instead invited a Democrat legislator.”

Cotham said she had “not heard a word” from Cooper about her vote on Senate Bill 20. Earlier this year, Cotham said that while she was a Democrat, her experiences dealing with Cooper were part of her decision to leave the Democratic Party.

“It became very clear to me early on, in January, that you better vote in line with everything Gov. Cooper tells you to do, from signing onto bills, to [letting Cooper] pick your seat on the House floor, to your committee requests — all of this sense of control,” said Cotham. “I will not be controlled by anyone.”

Cotham’s transition to the Republican Party seems unlikely to bode well for Cooper’s ability to control how she votes.

New Hanover Republicans: Michael Lee and Ted Davis

Sen. Michael Lee, who campaigned in support of the abortion compromise legislation in Senate Bill 20, said Cooper never reached out to him.

“I have not heard from Gov. Cooper beyond his office emailing me to let me know that he would be holding a roundtable in my district,” Lee said.

Sources close to Davis say he has not been contacted by Cooper, either, although Davis could not be reached for comment to confirm.

implications for lawmakers

Lawmakers from both Mecklenburg and New Hanover delegations said the only contact they received from Cooper or his team was a notice of the roundtable discussions in their districts.

Bradford won his seat by two points—51 to 49 percent—in the 2022 election. Cotham, who was a Democrat at the time, won her race by about 18 points. Upcoming redistricting will likely change the makeup of both districts.

Bradford does not plan to run for re-election. He announced his candidacy for state treasurer last month.

Bradford, who is now the Senior Chairman of the House Finance Committee, does not appreciate Cooper’s tactics.

“[Gov. Cooper] has made a career out of attacking Republicans,” Bradford said. “His actions play to the radical left that favors full-term and partial-birth abortions—a position not supported by mainstream voters.”

According to sources in Mecklenburg and New Hanover, Cooper’s roundtables in both counties were poorly attended by the public. At the Cape Fear Community College roundtable in New Hanover County, sources said some panelists’ name cards were handwritten, which they thought indicated Cooper had to add them last minute.

Cooper’s tour has been building up to his veto ceremony, which is scheduled to take place in Raleigh on Saturday.

The veto override vote

Republicans are expected to vote to override Cooper quickly, enacting the new restrictions into law.

Demi Dowdy, a spokesperson for House Speaker Tim Moore, said Cooper thinks he can pressure legislators to vote how he wants, but his campaign will not deter the House’s plans to override his veto.

“By calling out specific Republicans in swing districts, Gov. Cooper seems to believe he can pressure these Republican members into voting his way, just as he has bullied members of his own party,” Dowdy said. “The Speaker has always encouraged each of our members to vote their conscience on behalf of their constituents, and he is confident they will continue to do just that. We will ultimately override the governor’s veto of SB 20 when the time comes.”

The Senate will be responsible for voting on the override first and also expects a swift vote.

“Senate Bill 20 is a mainstream approach to limiting elective abortions in the second and third trimesters, supporting women and children, and ensuring that women have options available to them,” said Lauren Horsch, a spokesperson for Senate leader Phil Berger. “It’s obvious that Gov. Cooper can’t defend his own extreme stance on abortion since he has resorted to bullying other elected officials and making up outright lies about what is included in the bill. Senate Republicans look forward to setting the record straight and swiftly overriding Gov. Cooper’s veto.”

Sources say the Senate override vote is scheduled for Tuesday and that Senate Democrats are planning similar stalling tactics to last week.