For just one night every other year, North Carolina Republicans and Democrats set aside their political bickering long enough for the pomp and circumstance of the governor’s State of the State address.
State Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members, the Council of State and special guests squeeze into the House chamber in the Legislative Building to hear what is usually an hourlong version of the governor’s vision for North Carolina. They will even call him “His Excellency.”
This year that night comes on Monday, when Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper delivers his first address to the General Assembly, where he spent his formative political years, and tries to steer the state what he considers to be back on course.
“This speech can go a long way toward establishing the tone of Cooper’s tenure as governor,” said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College. “The appearance of leadership, even without winning the policy battles, can shape citizens’ perceptions of whether Cooper will be considered a successful governor.”
This speech can go a long way toward establishing the tone of Cooper’s tenure as governor.
David McLennan, Meredith College
Here’s what to expect:
It’s a safe bet that Cooper’s speech will sound familiar: what he has been saying on the campaign trail, in the time since his election last November and in the budget proposal he released last month — Repeal House Bill 2, expand Medicaid and invest in education to build a skilled workforce.
His remarks will be heard by a Republican-controlled legislature that has been jostling with the governor in the public relations battle over which party will do the most for teachers and classrooms.
It’s a legislature whose majority has already called Cooper’s budget a step backward to the days of overspending. Neither side has hesitated to engage in disagreements over policy and executive authority. It’s a relationship strained by both sides’ inability to reach a compromise on what should replace HB2 despite widespread sentiment that the law should be repealed.
“Because the governor and the Republicans in the General Assembly have gotten off to a rocky start with battles over the governor’s powers and on issues like teacher raises in the next budget, this address is an opportunity for the governor to demonstrate his leadership skills in rising above the back-and-forth with legislative leaders that has characterized his first few months in office,” McLennan said Friday.
Certain passages in every speech, if it’s any good, will come straight from the heart.
Pope “Mac” McCorkle, Duke University
McLennan noted Cooper is restrained by the Republican supermajorities in the General Assembly, where he could likely lose his skirmishes. But the address could help with the larger battle.
Past speeches a template
Gov. Pat McCrory delivered his address five weeks into his first term. He used the occasion to call for improving the economy, spending more on education and remaking state bureaucracies into customer-friendly enterprises. He called for eliminating debt and revamping Medicaid.
Midway into his term, in 2015, McCrory ramped up the call for job creation, education funding, roads and internet connectivity. In an 80-minute speech sprinkled with football imagery, he touted the accomplishments of his first two years: lower unemployment, tax reform, unemployment insurance debt settled and efforts to lower energy costs.
Pope “Mac” McCorkle, a former consultant to Democratic governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue who teaches at Duke University, said Cooper can use the platform to advance his message that the state can reclaim its progressive sheen after four years of Republican control.
“When Easley did it in 2001, it was to raise the red flag about our fiscal situation, given the dot-com bust recession,” McCorkle said Friday. “McCrory in 2013 was ‘There’s a new sheriff in town,’ saying how much things will change.
“With Roy, I think, there is a new governor in town and he’s setting the agenda for what North Carolina can and should do.”
Governors typically rely on their communications staff to turn their ideas into speeches — at least the first drafts. Typically, they will make final revisions. How much writing governors do varies, McCorkle said.
“But certain passages in every speech, if it’s any good, will come straight from the heart,” he said.
Senate leader Phil Berger will deliver a Republican response.
The address is scheduled to begin at 7:01 p.m. and end at 8 p.m. Monday, followed by Berger’s response.
In the Triangle, it will be carried on TV, radio and live-streaming – including on WUNC-TV, WRAL-TV, WTVD-TV, wral.com, wunc.org and 91.5 FM.