Politics & Government

NC Republicans: We didn’t lie about 9/11 vote. Democrat: Prove it with ‘lie detector’

North Carolina Republicans have said they did nothing wrong by voting on their proposed state budget on Sept. 11, when many Democrats were absent from the House floor.

Now, the top House Democrat wants to put those claims to the test.

Rep. Darren Jackson, the Democratic leader in the NC House, on Monday challenged top Republicans to take a polygraph test to prove they didn’t intentionally mislead him in order to approve their budget. Jackson says he took such a test himself, and provided a statement from North Carolina Polygraph Services saying he “exhibited no physiological reactions indicative of deception.”

The GOP-controlled legislature passed its proposed state budget earlier this year, but Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it in hopes of negotiating a deal to expand Medicaid. The morning of Sept. 11, the House voted to override Cooper’s veto while many Democrats were absent.

Jackson says Rep. David Lewis, who presided over the House on Sept. 10, told him there would be no votes the following morning. Lewis denies that claim.

In a noon press conference Monday, Jackson challenged Lewis and three other Republicans to let him interview them while hooked up to a polygraph machine. The tests cost $400 apiece, Jackson said. He wants to test Lewis, House Speaker Tim Moore, Rep. Jason Saine and Rep. Jon Hardister.

“They lied about the session the morning of Sept. 11 and they’ve continued to lie about it since,” he said.

Not ‘Maury Povich?’

Polygraphs are considered unreliable by the American Psychological Association and other experts. But Jackson pointed out that some government agencies use them when interviewing job candidates.

“If they’ll let me write the questions, I’ll pay for it,” Jackson said. “It’s not a stunt.”

At a news conference later in the day, Moore referred to Democrats’ complaints as a “sideshow” that’s meant to distract the public from the contents of the budget.

“Look, this isn’t the Maury Povich show,” Moore said. “I don’t plan on getting in the gutter with Rep. Jackson.”

Lewis, for his part, issued a statement Monday referring to Jackson’s challenge as a “publicity stunt” to keep the controversial budget vote in the news.

Legal action considered

The state’s spending plan was expected to be a major source of tension at the Legislative Building this year because it’s the first since 2012 that Republicans don’t have enough members to fast track their agenda. Democrats broke the GOP supermajority last year, adding strength to Cooper’s vetoes.

That’s why Democrats reacted so strongly to the override on Sept. 11, and why the political theater continued nearly two weeks later.

Jackson said he’s considering suing Republicans on grounds that Democrats weren’t given proper notice for the override vote.

The budget was on the calendar. But Jackson questioned the reliability of the calendar, since the budget had been on the House calendar for weeks without being voted on.

Democrats haven’t sued so far because the budget hasn’t passed the Senate to become law. It’s not yet known when the Senate will take it up.

“Rep. Jackson’s threat of a lawsuit demonstrates the Democrats’ continued Sue ‘Til Blue efforts for when they don’t receive the outcomes they want,” Lewis said in his statement.

Video footage

Jackson, an attorney, doesn’t practice criminal law. But Monday, he laid out the case against Republicans like a prosecuting attorney.

He noted that Lewis texted WRAL reporter Laura Leslie that there’d be no votes on Sept. 11. He brought up texts that Rep. Jon Hardister sent to Republican House members, urging them to attend the Sept. 11 session. He pointed out that Moore called on Saine to make a motion before Saine revealed why he stood up to be recognized.

And Jackson revealed that he watched security video of the budget vote — footage he says shows coordination among Republicans.

“They sit there listening intently and no one has any reaction of surprise. There’s no confusion or reaction at all, no question to their seatmate: What did Jason just say?” Jackson said, referring to Saine’s motion to consider the budget. Jackson added that there was “no discussion, no expression of emotion, no surprise, and ... everyone acts in unison.”

Martin Brock, chief of the NC General Assembly police, declined to release the security video to reporters. Police only release such videos for a criminal or personnel investigation, he said.

Credibility questioned

But, at Moore’s request, Brock played video of the Sept. 11 vote Monday afternoon. About 10 reporters and two legislative staffers crowded Brock’s office in the Legislative Office Building, where he showed the footage.

The video, which doesn’t contain audio, was captured from a camera mounted in a corner at the front of the House chamber. People near the camera are easily identifiable, while people at the back are less clear. What is clear: many Republicans are in their seats for the vote and can be seen voting.

Joseph Kyzer, a spokesman for Moore, stood with reporters as they watched the video and pointed out details that Jackson got wrong.

Jackson said Saine read a motion “apparently, from his phone.” But the video shows Saine reading a piece of paper dropped off by Bart Goodson, Moore’s chief of staff.

The paper given to Saine was the specific language for the motion to reconsider the budget veto override, Saine said in a phone interview. He plans to have it framed.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Domecast politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Megaphone, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

Paul “Andy” Specht reports on North Carolina leaders and state politics for The News & Observer and PolitiFact. Specht previously covered Raleigh City Hall and town governments around the Triangle. He’s a Raleigh native who graduated from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Contact him at aspecht@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4870.
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