When she took office in 2007, Tricia Cotham was the N.C. General Assembly’s youngest member at 28. Now the 37-year-old Democrat wants to become one of the youngest members of Congress.
She first took office after being elected by party officials to replace Democratic House Speaker Jim Black, who’d resigned in disgrace after a corruption scandal that would send him to prison.
Cotham had never held office but was no stranger to politics. It was, after all, a family affair – and passion.
Her great-grandmother was a delegate to the 1948 Democratic National Convention. Her father, John, chaired the Mecklenburg Democratic Party. Her mother, Pat, has chaired the county board of commissioners, on which she continues to serve. And her husband, Jerry Meek, chaired the state Democratic Party.
Before politics, Cotham was an educator.
In 2002, while teaching social studies at Northeast Middle School, she was named Charlotte-Mecklenburg Teacher of the Year. The following year she was Rotary Club Teacher of the Year.
At the time of her appointment in 2007, she was an assistant principal at East Mecklenburg High.
She’s continued to be a strong advocate for schools. In the Republican-controlled House, she’s vice chair of two committees: Education K-12 and Children, Youth and Families.
Sharing her story
She’s also been an advocate for women’s issues. In 2011, she used a personal story in arguing against a bill to require a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.
She related her experience two years earlier with an ectopic pregnancy, when doctors told her her 8- to 11-week-old fetus probably would not survive. She underwent more than three months of treatment, including chemotherapy, for the miscarriage to complete safely.
“Although I wasn’t making an abortion decision, I was going through very traumatic medical procedures,” she said at the time. She said the Republican-sponsored bill, which went on to pass, “assumes that women take a very serious and life-changing decision very lightly and without hesitation. And that’s not true.”
Working across the aisle
Last year, Cotham was among the 31 House Democrats who voted for the Republican budget. She also joined a new centrist group called the Main Street Democrats.
She touts her ability to work with Republicans. Last year, she was ranked 74th most effective among 120 House members by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
“You have to be able to work across the aisle (and) build relationships without ever compromising your principles,” she said. “I have an effective leadership style.”
Education: UNC Charlotte, bachelor’s; UNC-Chapel Hill, masters in school administration.
Family: Husband Jerry, two boys.
Job: Runs an hourly child care center.
Politics: Appointed to N.C. House 2007, Re-elected four times.
Worth knowing: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Teacher of the Year, 2002.