House Repubs serve notice with use of cheap parliamentary trick

House Repubs serve notice with use of cheap parliamentary trick

- in Legislative Watch


North Carolina got a small taste of down-in-the-dirt, no-hold-barred, Wisconsin-brand politics this afternoon. The only thing that prevented the tactic from succeeding was that House Republicans ultimately blinked — sort of.

Here’s what appears to have gone down:

As everyone knows, the House failed this week to override the Governor’s veto of House Bill 2 — the supposed health care “repeal” bill. End of story, right?

Not so fast, my friend.

Apparently, true believers in the House Republican caucus were willing to try and force a second vote on the same question late on Thursday in hopes of taking advantage of the departure of a handful of Democrats (the legislative week usually ends at mid-day on Thursday). Because the Constitution requires only a 3/5 vote of those present and voting, Republicans hoped to up their advantage beyond the 68-52 margin voters gave them in last year’s election. A 66-44 vote, for instance would have been enough.

Only one problem: In order to prevent endless re-votes of these kinds on settled matters, parliamentary rules have long prohibited such second bites at the apple unless someone who voted “on the prevailing side” on the initial vote changes their mind and makes the motion. Get it? This prevents folks who lost a vote from continually bringing it back up when people on the other side are simply out of the room.

In the case of House Bill 2, this would have required a Democrat to make the “motion to reconsider” since the initial vote was on partisan lines and Democrats prevailed. Unfortunately for the GOP, this wasn’t going to happen.

What to do? Well, it didn’t take them long to come up with a solution: resort to cheap parliamentary tricks, of course!

What they did was have Rep. Paul Stam, one of the truest of the true believers on the Republican right seek leave to “change his vote” from “yes” to no” on the matter — a vote that took place 24 hours earlier and on which Stam was an outspoken champion.

Put more blunty, Stam and the Republicans perpetrated a fiction, a falsehood, a lie. Stam did not vote “no” on the override. he voted loudly and proudly “yes” — there was no mistake. But as the result of a cheap and embarrassing parliamentary trick that’s now his offical vote.

The move obviously put Democrats in a pickle. Faced with no way to stop the cheap trick, Dems scrambled to find a solution and settled for agreeing to let Stam change his vote provided the motion to reconsider was delayed to another date.

This means that, while Democrats survived today — the motion to reconsider the overrride vote was deferred — they now confront the prospect of another vote whenever the Republicans feel like it — presumably at a time when enough Democrats have gone to the restroom.

In other words, things just got a helluva lot nastier on Jones Street today: Republicans have served notice that they’re willing to keep bills alive for days, (weeks? months?) and re-vote matters they’ve lost over and over until they get the results they want.

Democrats better take their vitamins and manage their bladders

About the author

Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.
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