'So liberal:' Rural NC lawmaker switches parties

NC Rep. Bill Brisson (NC General Assembly)

DUBLIN, North Carolina (WTVD) - A Democratic state legislator from rural North Carolina who is often aligned with GOP colleagues on major legislation is officially joining the Republican Party.

Six-term Rep. Bill Brisson of Bladen County told WECT-TV he would file paperwork to change his voter affiliation later Wednesday and seek re-election in 2018 under the Republican banner.

The switch means Republicans now will hold 75 of the 120 House seats. Democrats now will have to pick up four seats in the chamber to end the GOP's veto-proof majority.

Brisson didn't immediately return calls and a text to The Associated Press but told the TV station he'd been getting pressured by constituents to change parties. He said he doesn't have a lot in common with the Democratic Party "because they have become so liberal."

"It's all about the people with me, and it always has been. It's not as much about party vote with me," Brisson said. "I cannot support everything the Democratic Party is pushing today. ... I feel like by changing, I'll be in a better position to serve the people."

Brisson, a farmer representing parts of Bladen, Johnston, and Sampson counties, has routinely voted with House Republicans, particularly on legislation involving the budget and redistricting. He also helped override some of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes and is one of two House Democrats with a committee chairmanship, his being that of the House Appropriations Committee for health and human services.

Republicans celebrated the switch by Brisson, who has been described by state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes as "a hard-working and conservative voice in our state legislature for quite some time now."

"We are elated with his decision to switch his registration to a political party that will better serve himself and his constituents," Hayes said. "I look forward to working with him to spread Republican values and make the 22nd district the best it can be."

House Majority Leader John Bell of Wayne County said the move was a rebuke of Cooper and the state Democratic Party, "which are following the lead of the most extreme elements of the liberal, progressive movement, ultimately abandoning rural, conservative Democrats" like Brisson.

In a release, state Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin downplayed the flip, calling Brisson an "honest public servant" but someone who had rarely caucused with Democrats. Goodwin said Democrats are confident they will end the GOP supermajority next year under districts that had to be redrawn because of a court order, then retake control of the General Assembly in 2020.

"Our party remains committed to fighting for every seat possible in order to retake the majority by 2020," Goodwin said. "Under fairer maps in 2018 we are confident we will break the Republican supermajority. Our goal is to provide Governor Cooper with a Democratic Caucus that will stand with him in fighting to improve education, grow the economy, and ensure North Carolinians are ready for the jobs available today and created tomorrow.

"Today's news does not change the calculus needed to reach that goal," Goodwin added.

Republicans currently hold 35 of the Senate's 50 seats.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.