RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Democratic state representative from Mecklenburg County announced she is switching to the Republican Party.
During a press conference, Rep. Tricia Cotham said she switched affiliations because she believes the Democratic Party has changed and is not accepting to differing viewpoints.
"The party wants to villainize anyone who has free thought, free judgement, 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," she said.
Cotham coasted to victory in November, winning her left-leaning district in Mecklenburg County by 20 points.
The press conference announcing her party switch was very light on policy specifics. Cotham refused to answer what legislation she would support or which policies she had changed her stance on that more aligned her with Republicans.
Cotham has previously and publicly spoken of her having an abortion. She even co-sponsored a bill in January to codify reproductive rights. When asked specifically if she would support a ban on abortions after the first trimester, she dodged the question.
"There is a piece of good advice I learned from a long time ago. Don't discuss legislation that is not before you," she said. However, a week ago three Republican lawmakers filled House Bill 533, which would limit abortion except when a mother's life is in danger.
During the press conference, Cotham's campaign website was still active with policy stances decrying Republicans for attacking equality for the LGBTQ+ community and failing to provide quality, affordable health care to North Carolinians.
"I am still the same person, and I am going to do what I believe is right and follow my conscience," Cotham said Wednesday.
Cotham's website also said she believed the "right to vote is sacred and the cornerstone of our democracy." She has previously supported expanding access to voter registration and accessibility, and her site said she would "continue to oppose attacks on our democracy, preserve fundamental voting rights and ensure all voices are heard."
At the end of the press conference, Speaker Tim Moore confirmed that with Cotham's switch the Republican party would push ahead to redraw voting districts. This comes a year after the NC Supreme Court ruled the GOP violated the state's constitution through the use of extreme partisan gerrymandering.
"We have made no determinations on what we will do on redistricting, but we do intent do redistrict the House, redistrict the Senate and redistrict the Congressional seats," Moore said.
Cotham's switch from Democrat to Republican gives State House Republicans an outright supermajority, making it easier for the GOP-led General Assembly to override vetoes from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
NCGOP sent out a statement on the announcement welcoming Cotham to the party.
"We are thrilled to have Rep. Cotham join the Republican Party to advance solutions for North Carolina families," said NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley. "This announcement continues to reflect that the Democratic Party is too radical for North Carolina. The values of the Republican Party align with voters, and the People of Mecklenburg County should be proud to have her representation in Raleigh."
In a statement released Wednesday, House Democratic leader Robert Reives called on Cotham to resign.
"Rep. Tricia Cotham campaigned as a Democrat and supporter of abortion rights, health care, public education, gun safety, and civil rights," Reives wrote. "The voters of House District 112 elected her to serve as that person and overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. ... That is not the person those constituents campaigned for in a hard primary, and who they championed in a general election in a 60% Democratic district. Those constituents deserved to know what values were most important to their elected representative."
When asked Wednesday morning if she would resign she responded, "That's why (Democrats) are not in power."
The North Carolina Democratic Party held its own news conference at NCDP headquarters on Hillsborough Street in downtown Raleigh to respond to Cotham's decision.
"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," Democratic chair Anderson Clayton said. "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."
While Republicans already hold the 30 Senate seats needed to override vetoes, they have been one seat shy of a similar advantage in the House since the November elections. Cooper made preventing supermajorities his top campaign priority last fall.
Cotham, a former teacher and assistant principal, served in the House for nearly 10 years through 2016 before returning in January.
Republicans have been advancing legislation this year that in previous years Cooper successfully vetoed. Until now, the governor has had enough Democratic votes to uphold vetoes if the party members showed up and voted together.
Last week, the Legislature successfully overrode one of Cooper's vetoes for the first time since 2018 and approved a bill that in part eliminated the state's pistol permit purchase system. Cooper has stopped short of vetoing three other bills this year on topics that he vetoed in 2021. He didn't sign this year's measures but rather allowed them to become law without his signature.
Cotham was one of three House Democrats who were absent last week during the override votes on the gun bill. The absences meant Republicans were able to meet the three-fifths majority threshold necessary to complete the override and advance their agenda.
Cotham said later that day that while she didn't support the permit repeal, she had informed both parties she would be absent for the vote, citing a scheduled hospital treatment. She and other absent Democrats took criticism for what happened, leading at least one liberal-leaning group to announce plans to "hold them accountable" in 2024.
Cooper said Cotham's apparent party switch was a "disappointing decision."
The Associated Press contributed.