Governor Roy Cooper will have one of the toughest jobs in politics in 2017, governing one of the most divided states in the country.
A veteran North Carolina politician, Cooper’s political career took off 28 years ago this month. He was part of coup to overthrow the speaker of the North Carolina House, a fellow Democrat. Joe Mavretic assembled 20 Democrats who worked with Republicans to take over the chamber.
“We were well organized and we handled the clandestine part of it very well; the counter-intelligence part of it very well,” Mavretic said.
It was a huge risk for the young lawmaker. Cooper was just 31 and in his second term. Within two years, Cooper was appointed to the state Senate. Then he moved onto to be North Carolina’s Attorney General for four terms. In November, he narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Pat McCrory for the Executive Mansion.
“This is a governor who when he seems something that needs to be done, he’s willing to roll the dice,” Mavretic said.
These are tumultuous times in North Carolina - Cooper will have to take some big chances in the current political climate. Republicans hold veto proof majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. And they plan to make Cooper’s life difficult.
Fewer Powers For Cooper As He Took Office
Days after he was declared the winner, lawmakers held an unscheduled special session and stripped the incoming governor of some key powers. For his part, Cooper has already announced plans to expand the federal Medicaid program even though state law forbids him from doing so.
“It is common sense for North Carolina to keep its options open as we go into this new healthcare arena, under a Trump presidency,” Cooper said.
Cooper is also likely to face tough fights over the budget and redistricting. And then there’s House Bill 2. The “bathroom bill” passed last year limits protections for the LGBT community and led to economic boycotts of North Carolina. While serving as Attorney General, Cooper refused to defend the measure in court. Now as Governor, he wants to work with Republicans to repeal it.
“I think campaign talk is tough, but now that we’re past this election, let’s roll up our sleeves,” Cooper said.
A bipartisan effort to repeal the controversial law failed last month. And there’s little trust between Cooper and his chief political adversary, Republican Phil Berger, who leads the state Senate.
“I think there is a lot to be said about leadership in state government particularly the incoming leadership in the executive branch,” Berger said. “I think Roy Cooper did everything he could do sabotage a reasonable compromise.”
Cooper and lawmakers are gearing up for a contentious session this year. And Cooper will likely have to make his case to voters if he wants to accomplish anything, according to political scientist David McLennan.
“He is the Governor and can command sort of the bully pulpit of North Carolina and perhaps move public opinion,” McLennan said.
McLennan said Cooper is going to spend the year fighting the legislature and may have to turn to the courts often to get his way. It will take all of Cooper’s political skill to govern in this polarized state.