Gov Cooper Calls For 'Smart, Strategic Investments'; GOP Response Gets Personal

Mar 14, 2017

For the first time Governor Roy Cooper stood before a joint session of the legislature to deliver his state of the state address.

Credit WUNC-TV

It was a chance for Cooper to push his priorities. But given the tone of the official Republican response, that's a tall order.

Every two years North Carolina's governor is invited to give the state of the state address. And here is how Governor Roy Cooper sees it: "I want to begin by reporting to you that the state of our state is promising."

It's an interesting choice, which needed some explanation.

"It is promising," Cooper said,"because of our universities and our community colleges, because of our farms and our factories, our banking headquarters. But, most of all, because of the hard-working people of this state who want it to succeed."

Hard-working people, Cooper said, who are welcoming and friendly to everyone, even though they live in a state with laws that are not.

"I'm going to say this first thing because of the urgency and to go ahead and get it out of the way, tonight, I call on the legislature once again to repeal House Bill 2."

That line did get applause, but it was not universal. Still, Cooper had this pledge for the lawmakers assembled: "Pass a clean repeal of House Bill 2 and I will sign it the same day. Pass a compromise repeal that works to eliminate discrimination and brings back jobs and sports and entertainment and I will sign it, as long as it truly gets the job done."

A clean repeal of House Bill 2 seems out of reach, Republican lawmakers have made that clear. But the governor has also stated he's not a fan of the only bi-partisan HB 2 repeal bill that's been introduced so far.

The relationship between the Republican supermajorities in the state legislature and the Democratic governor is testy to say the least. Lawmakers continue to pass bills to curtail the governor's powers. The governor keeps challenging those bills in court.

Yet, this confrontation is what Governor Cooper used to strike a cooperative tone.

"Now, here in Raleigh partisan battles, power struggles, and lawsuits may grab the headlines, but we have to work together when we can to look beyond ourselves to see what's right for our state....That's what the people of North Carolina want us to do and what common sense demands us to do."

Not coincidentally, Cooper used "common sense" in the name of his proposed budget and last night he launched into some of the budget highlights.

Money to expand pre-K slots for 4,700 kids which he said "means they'll arrive at school ready to learn," plus, an average 10 percent raise for all teachers, more money for principals and school administrators, and scholarships for some who agree to teach in troubled public schools and more. All this comes with a price tag of more than $800 million. 

"Yeah, there's a price tag on these investments in education," the governor acknowledged, "but now that the economy is rebounding it's time to make smart, strategic investments in our people."

Cooper called for expanding health coverage for North Carolina's poor, although he never uttered the word Medicaid.

"We have to sit down and have serious discussions about improving access for people who don’t have it. Most of these are people who work hard, but find it tough to afford to see a doctor."

So far the Republican-controlled legislature has seen this as a non-starter due to the unknown cost of expanding care.

Overall Cooper tried to strike a tone of cooperation over confrontation, but he signaled confrontation is not off the table.

"I promise to listen, to engage, to build consensus, when possible. I promise to fight only when we can't come to agreement, or when you leave me no choice."

A few minutes after the Democrat's speech was over, Republicans offered their response.

Senate Pro-Tem Phil Berger began his pre-recorded speech by saying the state's economy, education system, and business climate have all improved due to Republican leadership. Then, he lashed out. First at the media by saying: "If anyone but Republicans had accomplished this, the media would tout North Carolina as a national success story. Instead, the institutions of the left, the press, the Democratic party, liberal special interests have ginned up great controversy and false outrage."

Then Berger's ire shifted to how non-Republicans treat Republicans.

"They call Republicans ignorant, dishonest, immoral, racist, bigoted, anti-woman, anti-voter, anti-education, even treasonous."

Berger then painted Governor Cooper as the left's new champion and one that barely won his office.  He said Cooper is not looking for compromise.

"Instead, of seeking middle ground, he sued to block common-sense, popular reforms like voter ID. And laws he doesn't like, he simply ignores."

Senator Berger again blamed Governor Cooper for last year's failed attempt to repeal House Bill 2.