Sen. Don Davis Key Swing Vote In Budget Battle

Sen. Don Davis was the only Senate Democrat to vote to override Gov. Cooper’s veto of SB 359—the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act—and in June of last year, he was one of the Democrats that went along with Republicans in voting for a budget bill. Not only does this willingness to cross the aisle make Sen. Davis somewhat unique in a political climate that is increasingly polarized along partisan lines, but in a political landscape where Republicans are only one vote short of being able to override vetoes, he is a powerful swing vote. So what does he want?

On January 14th Davis took to the Senate floor to speak against a school budget bill that he felt did not go far enough in aiding non-certified school employees, becoming passionate and raising his voice as he discussed the plight of school bus drivers and janitors. On January 17th he reinforced that message, posting an image of himself on a school bus posing with the driver.

Sen. Don Davis posing with a driver on a school bus. Davis is a key swing vote in the budget debates.
Sen. Don Davis with a school bus driver from three days after the budget vote.

When The Cycle reached out to Sen. Davis he responded, “These are some of the lowest paid and hardest working state employees.” He also pointed out that the General Assembly had previously voted to increase the pay of all state employees to $15 an hour, but that non-certified school personnel had been exempted. “As a former US Air Force officer, I was taught to take care of your people,” Davis stated.

On the Republican side, Senate President Pro-Tempore Phil Berger has described the failure to override the vetoes as a Democratic effort to pressure Republicans Medicaid expansion by blocking the passage of a state budget.

In that political climate of distrust, it will be difficult to negotiate on the issue of a state budget. The topic is made even more complicated for Sen. Davis by the question of funding for the construction of a new building for the Brody School of Medicine at ECU which is located within Davis’ district. Lawmakers may be less willing to negotiate and give concessions to a Senator whose district would be directly benefiting from a project already included in the budget, especially when there is already suspicion that Democratic resistance on the budget is really just a bargaining chip in the fight over Medicaid.

Davis represents Pitt and Greene Counties and has held the seat since being elected in 2012. Davis previously served in that same seat from 2008 to 2010. Before that, he was the mayor of Snow Hill and served as a captain in the U.S. Air Force after having graduated from the United States Air Force Academy. He is also a lay minister in the Presbyterian Church United States of America (PCUSA), and has taught sociology at the university level.

In the current makeup of the State Senate, the Republicans hold 29 seats while the Democrats hold 21. Since 30 votes are needed in the Senate to override a veto from the governor this allows a Democrat who is willing to reach across the aisle a certain amount of negotiating power.

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