Opinion: Carolina Journal Opinions

Two key senate Democrats cave to keep schools closed

N.C. Senate Republicans failed to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 37, which would have forced local school districts to reopen classrooms for in-person instruction. Two key Democrats changed their positions to back the governor after originally voting for the bill.

In changing their votes, State Senators Ben Clark, D-Hoke, and Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, made absurd calls for Republicans to compromise with Governor Cooper. Their altered public stance is so ridiculously partisan it is insulting to the intelligence of voters.

Cooper vetoed the bipartisan measure on Feb. 26, one day before he faced a constitutional deadline to sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law with no action.

The Senate voted 31-16 to send this bill to Cooper, with three Democrat state Senators Clark, Kirk deViere, D-Cumberland, and Lowe voting with the Republican majority.

If all 50 state Senators are present and voting, 30 votes, (three-fifths) are needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

Republicans needed two of the three Democrats to stick with them to override the veto.

Give Fayetteville Democrat state Sen. deViere tremendous credit. The parents and children of Cumberland County and North Carolina were important enough for him stick with his vote to reopen schools that he voted with the Republicans on the override knowing it was going down to defeat. With tremendous pressure from the state teacher’s union (NCAE), and Gov. Cooper, deViere held firm. That is courage.

Sen. Lowe tweeted he would be flipping his vote just before the critical showdown on the senate floor.

After some careful consideration, I will be voting to sustain the Governor’s veto,” wrote Lowe, of Winston-Salem. “Our students and teachers must come back to a healthy learning environment. I hope we can come to a compromise.”

The third critical Democrat, Ben Clark of Hoke County, missed Monday nights override vote after being granted a leave of absence for the session. He also indicated he would be backing the governor.

Clark told WRAL-TV earlier Monday in an email that he believed “that it would be prudent for the General Assembly to make the adjustments to (the bill) as requested by the governor.”

However, this is absurd on its face, and these two Democrats know it. The two Democrats know the legislation is no longer amendable. A vote to override is a simple yes or no question.

Sen. Clark was a primary sponsor of the bill. How does a state senator serve as a primary sponsor of a bill, believing schools need to be open, and then come out against his own bill to back the governor?

Raw, partisan politics. No more no less. Keeping Cooper happy was more important to Sen. Clark than parents and children. Period.

Among Cooper’s objections listed in his veto override message, includes his statement that: “It hinders local and state officials from protecting students and teachers during an emergency.”

These two Democrats know changing the bill to please the governor would make the legislation pointless. You can’t force him to reopen schools at the same time that you allow him to keep schools closed.

And remember, Gov. Cooper can “compromise” at any moment to fully reopen the schools. He does not need the legislature to do it. The whole point of the bill is that Cooper and some local school districts won’t reopen their classrooms, despite overwhelming science indicating it’s safe to do so, including recommendations from the CDC to open schools.

It’s insulting to the voters, struggling parents, and the students to suggest some magic unicorn “compromise” is possible. If it were, the governor could just do it by executive order.

After the vote, Sen. Lowe was more honest about changing his vote, telling the News and Observer  that Cooper had asked him to sustain the veto.

“He asked. I am a Democrat. He’s the governor, and a Democratic governor,” Lowe said.

If that is not bad enough right after selling out parents and students Lowe spoke of the need to open classrooms to in-person instruction. “We were going to have to do something,” Lowe stated.

“I will say this. We have opened up a lot of stuff. All kinds of stuff,” Lowe said in an interview. “We’ve opened up all these different things, and schools aren’t open. For some children it’s devastating. Some children are behind. They won’t catch up.”

Sen. Lowe we were “doing something.” You and Sen. Clark stopped it. Just to keep Gov. Cooper happy. Parents and kids be damned.