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A N.C. lawmaker has switched parties, creating a path to stricter abortion laws

North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham announces she is switching affiliation to the Republican Party at a news conference on Wednesday.
Hannah Schoenbaum
North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham announces she is switching affiliation to the Republican Party at a news conference on Wednesday.

Welcome to the NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.

A Democratic North Carolina lawmaker announced on Wednesday that she was switching to the GOP, giving Republicans a veto-proof majority in the state and paving a way for major legislative changes.

Who is she? North Carolina State House member Tricia Cotham.

  • Cotham's political career is preceded by a legacy of Democrats. Her mother, Pat Cotham, is a longtime Democratic member of the Mecklenburg Commission and a Democratic National Committee member, and her father John was a chair of the county's Democratic Party.
  • A former public school assistant principal, Cotham had previously served in the N.C. House of Representatives from 2007 to 2016, before returning in January.
  • Her stance on several issues has been consistent with the Democratic Party – she's previously opposed new abortion restrictions, been supportive of LGBTQ rights, and supported public education in the state. But she also has voted with the GOP recently, including on a bill requiring sheriffs to cooperate with ICE officials, according to reporting from member station WFAE.
  • What's the big deal? Early on Wednesday, Cotham announced that she would switch party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, citing "bullying" from Democrats as one of her main motivators.

  • The switch comes at a tipping point for North Carolina's legislature and would give the GOP 72 seats in the House — the precise number needed for a veto-proof majority. It already has the numbers in the Senate, meaning Republicans can enact policies over the opposition of Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper.
  • It could also precede new legislation on immigration, voting, and abortion rights that North Carolina Republicans may pursue.
  • Last week, Cotham's absence alongside two other Democrats during a vote on repealing pistol permits allowed for the GOP to push the change through, despite Cooper's veto, drawing ire from constituents and colleagues.
  • Various North Carolina progressive groups have expressed outrage in statements and online, calling for Cotham's resignation and alleging she misrepresented herself to her constituents. 

  • Can't get enough politics? Listen to the Consider This episode on Trump and his arraignment.

    What are people saying?

    Here's what Cotham had to say during her press conference announcing the switch:

    I am still the same person, and I am going to do what I believe is right and follow my conscience.

    I've suffered many attacks since I've been up here, from Democrats in the party, from blasting me on Twitter, to calling me names, to going after my family, going after my children.

    The party wants to villainize anyone who has free thought, free judgment, has solutions and wants to get to work to better our state. Not just sit in a meeting and have a workshop after a workshop, but really work with individuals to get things done. Because that is what real public servants do. If you don't do exactly what the Democrats want you to do they will try to bully you. They will try to cast you aside.

    Democratic chair Anderson Clayton in a news conference held by the North Carolina Democratic Party:

    Representative Cotham's decision to switch parties is a deceit of the highest order. It is a betrayal to the people of Mecklenburg County with repercussions not only for the people of her district but for the entire state of North Carolina. Reproductive freedoms are on the line. Our public schools are on the line. LGBTQ rights are on the line. Voting rights are on the line. Our future as a state is on the line.

    North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton speaks at a rally calling for state Rep. Tricia Cotham's resignation.
    Hannah Schoenbaum / AP
    North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton speaks at a rally calling for state Rep. Tricia Cotham's resignation.

    So, what now?

  • Cotham's decision could be most impactful in regards to a nationwide trend of increasing abortion restrictions. According to reporting from member station WUNC, she would not answer specific questions about a potential ban on abortions after 13 weeks, something Republicans are said to be considering, but has insisted she will stick to her values.
  • This could also impact her chances of reelection in 2024, coming from a historically blue area. However, WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison notes that if Republicans redraw her district, that could change her odds.
  • When prompted regarding calls for her resignation, Cotham said it was an example of why she was switching parties, calling it: "The low blow of where we are in this institution."
  • Learn more:

  • NC Dems furious as Tricia Cotham bails on Democratic Party
  • The U.S. faces 'unprecedented uncertainty' regarding abortion law, legal scholar says
  • North Carolina Republicans want to eliminate grace period for counting mail-in ballots
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    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.