Gov. Roy Cooper is facing his first severe-weather response effort before his administration is even a week old.
On Friday morning, news crews gathered at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh for a familiar scene: The governor detailing a coming storm and urging North Carolina residents to stay safe.
A week ago, that task would have fallen to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who presided over many similar news conferences in his dark green Emergency Management shirt. But since Cooper took the oath of office on Jan. 1 – well ahead of his scheduled inauguration and earlier than previous governors – it’s now his job to lead the state’s winter storm response.
But since the Cooper administration is early in the process of hiring top leaders, the governor turned to a McCrory administration official – Emergency Management director Mike Sprayberry – during the news conference to make sure he’d hit all the key points.
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Sprayberry has worked for the agency since 2005 and served as director for nearly all of McCrory’s term after he was hired in 2013 by the Republican’s first secretary of public safety, Kieran Shanahan. So far, he’s staying in the job.
Two others standing with Cooper Friday are brand new to their jobs: Secretary of Public Safety Erik Hooks was named to his position only a day earlier, and Secretary of Transportation Mike Holder is only leading the agency on an interim basis until Cooper’s permanent pick, Jim Trogdon, starts work.
Cooper, who served as North Carolina’s attorney general for the past 16 years, said Friday that he’s prepared for the challenge. “I was ready for a weather emergency, and I’m glad I’ve already gotten sworn in as of Jan. 1,” he said, noting that he made a point to talk with Emergency Management leaders during his first day on the job. “We met that morning to make sure we were ready in any type of emergency, and sure enough, it has shown up.”
Cooper declared a state of emergency Friday morning for all 100 counties in the state, a move that makes it easier for the government to respond.
The storm has already wreaked havoc on Cooper’s inauguration plans, which were first moved indoors and then canceled. Cooper took the oath of office a second time – for ceremonial purposes – in a rescheduled ceremony Friday afternoon and will deliver his inaugural address on live TV at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, without members of the public present.
Natural disasters typically put governors front and center, and a successful response can help a governor’s popularity: McCrory saw a boost in opinion polls in the weeks following Hurricane Matthew in October, although he still fell short on Election Day.
So far, Cooper isn’t wearing the green Emergency Management shirt: He wore his standard business suit to Friday’s news conference.