State Rep. Cecil Brockman, one of the five House Democrats who voted for the state budget last week, responded to youth leaders in the party who slammed him for supporting the GOP bill, telling them to “grow up.”
Brockman, a frequent swing vote in the House Democratic Caucus, was one of a handful of Democrats appointed by GOP legislative leaders to serve as conferees on the 625-page budget bill that was released and approved by the legislature last week.
In a statement released Sunday, Brockman, who represents High Point and is serving his fifth term in the House, hit back at the criticism he and his colleagues had received, telling the youth leaders: “You might not like it, but I’m willing to work with (the) majority and try to find common ground.”
Along with Democratic Reps. Garland Pierce, Shelly Willingham and Michael Wray, all of whom also served as conferees, and Rep. Carla Cunningham, Brockman voted to approve the months-delayed budget on Thursday.
Every other House Democrat on the floor voted against the budget, citing what they said were lackluster raises for teachers and state employees, the enactment of universal school vouchers at the expense of public schools, funding for anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, and other provisions in the bill. Every Democratic senator who cast votes also opposed the budget.
On Thursday evening, leaders of the Young and College Democrats, as well as the North Carolina Association of Teen Democrats, put out a statement saying that they were “outraged” that Brockman and the other four House Democrats had broken with the rest of their party and voted to approve the budget, which they described as “a massive assault on reproductive rights, Black representation in our courts, public education, and access to health care.”
A message to ‘start acting like Democrats’
The three youth leaders, Dorian Palmer, Kema Leonard, and Daniel Patterson, noted that they were the first Black men to lead all three of the party’s youth organizations at the same time, and said they were “particularly sad to see several of our Black elected officials engage in the back-slapping game of closed-door politics that’s been ignoring communities of color across NC for decades.”
They went on to say their message to Brockman, Pierce, Willingham, Cunningham and Wray was to “start acting like Democrats and stop helping NC Republicans pass some of the most brazenly anti-Black legislation we’ve seen in years in a direct affront to the communities you represent.”
“Let this be your notice — March 5th, 2024 comes sooner than you think,” Palmer, Leonard, and Patterson wrote in conclusion, referencing the date for next year’s Democratic primary election.
In his statement, Brockman said his job as a state legislator and budget conferee was to work on the state budget, and that he believed the majority of North Carolinians “want politicians to stop bickering and work together to do what’s best for everybody.”
He also defended his support for the Republican spending plan, noting that it included $29 million for the “majority poor Black district” in and around High Point he was born and raised in, and represents.
Earlier this year, after he was criticized for missing a key vote on an override of Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a major gun rights bill, Brockman told The News & Observer that it wasn’t fair for Democrats “to tell me I have to wait until Democrats get back in charge” to get resources for his district.
When one of the other Democrats who missed that vote, Rep. Tricia Cotham, switched parties and joined the House GOP caucus just a week later, Brockman dismissed rumors that he was also considering changing parties, telling The N&O that he had been a lifelong Democrat and wanted to see his party win.
“I think we are losing people when they read how we treat members of our own party,” Brockman said then. “We need to get moderates to win the state, not just the people who agree with us. I want Democrats to win and I plan on helping them do so.”
Tensions this year between two wings of the party
Other Democrats known for voting often with the GOP supermajority have also come under fire from the party’s left flank.
When Rep. Shelly Willingham, a retired Washington, D.C., police officer, signed onto a bill that was personally being advanced by House Speaker Tim Moore, to increase punishments for rioting, anti-police brutality activists criticized Willingham and other Democrats for backing the GOP bill and suggested their votes would be remembered during election season.
Ultimately, the number of Democrats supporting the bill grew, with six House Democrats joining the GOP to help pass Moore and Willingham’s bill.
In a Facebook post last week, Brockman said the $29 million he had secured this year, which he said would provide local organizations with resources to address issues such as violence, food deserts and hunger, and housing, was more than double the amount allocated to High Point in the last budget.
On Sunday, Brockman said his message to the youth leaders upset with his vote in favor of the budget was: “grow up.”
“When you’re an adult you have to work with people you may have disagreements with and even may not like,” he said. “But you get up every day and you do your job.”
Brockman said he will continue to “do my job in looking out for the best interest of my constituents,” and said he trusted that “when election time rolls around, my constituents will do what they have done for the past 5 election cycles and vote in their best interest.”