BY JOHN FRANK – JFRANK@NEWSOBSERVER.COM
RALEIGH — The look on her face said it all.
Charlotte Democrat Becky Carney stood on the House floor Monday night with her mouth agape. She looked horrified. Embarrassed. Sick to her stomach.
Moments earlier, she cast the deciding vote to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto on a bill to advance natural gas exploration. The problem? She opposed the bill. Voted against it days earlier. And now she made it law.
Yes, the state of North Carolina approved fracking, one of the most controversial pieces of legislation this year, by accident.
The 10-year veteran lawmaker hit the wrong button on her desk. Carney punched the thumbnail-sized green button that says “AYE” just above the red one that says “NO.”
“Oh, my God,” she said on the floor. “It won’t let me change my vote.”
For all the maneuvering, arm-twisting and political horse-trading Republicans employed to get a handful of Democrats to void their party leader’s veto just before 11:30 p.m. Monday, it came down to a mistake.
“You ever see my golf game?” said state Sen. Bob Rucho, a bill sponsor, after the vote. “It’s based on luck, not on skill.”
Carney tried to reverse her vote but Republicans blocked it. Democrats called the move “disgraceful.”
House Speaker Thom Tillis said he was comfortable with the process. “There’s a green button and a red button; they should know which one to push,” he said.
In the glow of TV camera lights, just before midnight, this is how Carney said happened:
The vote took her by surprise. Republicans limited debate on the fracking legislation – Senate bill 820 – and called the vote. Green button to override. Red button to sustain.
Carney hit the button and looked to the board above the chamber that shows the results: 72 to 46. The color next to Carney’s name matched the Republicans.
She panicked. She hit a different button to turn on her microphone and called to the House speaker on the dais. He didn’t recognize her. So she rushed to the front, 20 steps from her seat in the eighth row down the red-carpeted middle aisle.
Carney asked the clerk to check her vote. Green. Override.
She then asked Tillis if she could change her vote. Tillis said House rules prevented it.
Lawmakers mistakenly vote all the time but they are not permitted to change a vote if it affects the outcome.
Carney rushed back to her desk and called to the speaker. She wanted to request the House waive the rules – not an uncommon procedure – to allow her to change her vote.
Tillis didn’t respond. He went quickly to his Republican leader, Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex, who moved a “clincher vote” to essentially seal the verdict and prevent reconsideration of the vote. It passed.
A vote without a predetermined outcome is rare in the legislature. But Republican leaders held this vote without knowing if they had the support.
Carney felt horrible – and upset. “This late at night, tired and an important vote of this magnitude I should have been allowed that courtesy,” she said.
THIS MAKES ME WANT TO CRY. This was a big deal for the last few weeks in NC. Governor Perdue vetoes this horrid bill and most residents of NC were glad that she did it. Now, the state of NC will be open to fracking based on a mistaken vote. This is a shameful day in state history. The people of NC were not represented today.