Under the Dome

Gov. Roy Cooper has struggled to keep these campaign promises

As a candidate, Roy Cooper promised to bring a new level of attention to the state’s youngest and most vulnerable residents.

He said voters could expect to see more jobs, more education funding and better health care.

In his first year as governor, Cooper enjoyed multiple economic successes. But many of his plans have yet to come to fruition.

PolitiFact North Carolina’s Coop-O-Meter has tracked Cooper’s campaign promises. After a year, the most common PolitiFact rating for Cooper’s promises is Stalled.

North Carolinians in 2016 replaced Republican Gov. Pat McCrory with Cooper, a Democrat whose ambitions have largely been stifled or tempered by a Republican-controlled legislature with a conservative agenda.

Republicans hold a supermajority in the North Carolina General Assembly, so they can block Democratic proposals and override Cooper if he vetoes their legislation. In the House, there are 75 Republicans and 45 Democrats. In the Senate, there are 35 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

“As long as the Republicans, with their supermajority numbers, control the legislative process and can override his vetoes, I think he will feel frustrated in terms of wanting specific issues enacted,” said Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at Catawba College in Salisbury.

If Democrats pick up either four House seats or six Senate seats in the November election, they’ll break the supermajority.

In his first year, Cooper vetoed 13 bills, and 11 of them were overridden or replaced with similar legislation. The two vetoes that stuck: a bill that would’ve allowed nonprofits to have gambling-themed fundraisers, and another that would allow what critics called “garbage juice” to be sprayed at landfills.

As for the bills pushed through over Cooper’s veto: Lawmakers made judicial elections partisan, eliminated this year’s judicial primary elections, reduced the number of judges on the state Court of Appeals, changed who controls state and county elections boards and limited lawsuits against agricultural operations, among other things.

In trying to stop legislation, Cooper and Democrats have turned to the courts. In January, the state Supreme Court struck down the changes to election boards and a federal judge partly reinstated judicial primaries. Other lawsuits are awaiting judges’ decisions.

Political experts say Cooper’s lack of progress is to be expected.

“The mere fact that he vetoes the bills gives solace to those who don’t agree with what the legislature is doing,” said David Thornton, director and associate professor of government studies at Campbell University in Buies Creek.

“But he really can’t stop them if they’re hellbent on accomplishing their goals,” Thornton said.

Cooper’s biggest accomplishments so far have been related to the economy.

The governor struck a deal with Republican legislators to partly roll back House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” to the satisfaction of companies concerned that it was discriminatory. Athletic organizations that pulled events from the state agreed to come back.

Cooper had promised to work to repeal HB2; PolitiFact rated that a Compromise because cities and counties remain banned from creating local discrimination protections. The ban expires in 2020.

Meanwhile, Cooper has leveraged the state’s incentives program to encourage job creation. His administration has promised a combined $185 million in incentives to 54 companies, so long as they fulfill their commitments to investing a total of $2.85 billion and creating 12,637 jobs over the next three to 12 years.

That’s up from McCrory’s last year in office, when the state granted companies up to $66.9 million if they fulfill promises to invest nearly $1.39 billion and create 7,300 jobs.

On the campaign trail, Cooper promised to shift a greater percentage of incentive dollars to businesses with 200 or fewer employees.

“We need to create these opportunities for everyday working North Carolinians,” Cooper said in a December interview.

The Cooper administration in 2017 committed more than $66 million to 35 small businesses, according to the NC Department of Commerce. That’s up from the $30.8 million that McCrory’s administration awarded 33 small businesses in 2016. Because the overall amount pledged in incentives is so much larger than in 2016, the share going to small businesses is slightly smaller.

PolitiFact rated this promise In the Works.

Republicans in the legislature hesitate to give Cooper much credit for North Carolina’s economy, attributing most of it to income-tax cuts the GOP made before he was in office, which Cooper has criticized.

“We have given the governor credit when credit is due, for example his administration’s collaborative efforts on recruiting Toyota. But the top ambassador for our state shouldn’t be publicly decrying its job-creating tax policies,” said Amy Auth, a spokesman for state Senate leader Phil Berger.

Berger has accused Cooper of hypocrisy because the governor “is showing up at ribbon cuttings to claim credit from the benefits of the Republican tax reform – even admitting ‘we have the right kind of business environment for [companies] to grow’ – at the same time he lambasts those same policies to raise money from his far-left base.”

Cooper said incentives “directly result in good-paying jobs for our people. And that’s a lot different than just across the board giveaways to corporations and the wealthy at the expense of education and tax cuts for the middle class, particularly with no guarantee that they’ll bring good-paying jobs to our state.”

Other Cooper promises include:

Protect education

Cooper said he’d “protect” public education from those trying to “undermine it.” He also said he’d raise education spending without raising taxes and bring teacher pay to the national average. His budget charted the course for achieving those goals but it was rejected by the GOP-led legislature, which passed a budget of its own.

That budget, according to Berger, increased public education funding by nearly $700 million over the next two years, authorized average annual raises for teachers of 3.3 percent this school year and 9.6 percent over the two years ending June 2019, expanded the pre-kindergarten program and partially restored the teaching fellows program – which offers scholarships for students who go to college to become teachers.

Republicans point out Cooper vetoed that budget before lawmakers finalized it. Cooper said he’s raised “the level of debate” around education, “and that’s resulted in more kids in pre-K and has resulted in the revival of the teaching fellows program.”

Auth said Cooper taking credit for education gains runs “counter to legislative Republicans’ years-long efforts to improve public education and raise teacher pay – which began before he was even an announced candidate for governor, much less elected to the office.”

Considering both sides have pushed for improvements, PolitiFact considers this promise to be In the Works.

Expand Medicaid

On the campaign trail, Cooper said one of the first things he’d tackle as governor is expanding Medicaid.

More than 2.1 million North Carolinians are on Medicaid, the government health insurance that covers poor children, some of their parents, the elderly and the disabled. Former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law allows states to expand the program to adults who don’t now qualify. Health policy experts estimate that there are about 400,000 North Carolina residents whose work or financial situation has left them needing coverage

But with Republicans controlling the General Assembly and Congress, Medicaid expansion is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Stymied, Cooper now hopes to work with Republicans on an alternative solution for providing health-care coverage. Until that comes to fruition, PolitiFact has rated this promise as Stalled.

Create a redistricting commission

Cooper said on the campaign trail that he’d work to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission “to make voting districts fair and competitive.” Judges have found some GOP-drawn legislative and congressional election maps to be gerrymandered, and Cooper believes the mapmaking process should be in the hands of experts.

The problem for Cooper is that legislative Republicans appear to have little appetite for such a setup. Cooper hopes to make progress on the promise after legislative elections this fall, when he believes Democrats will gain more power in the capital.

Until that happens, PolitiFact considers this promise Stalled.

Free community college

Cooper said on the campaign trail that he’d “design a proposal for North Carolina to offer free tuition for community college.” He rolled out his idea last March, suggesting the state use money generated from the NC Education Lottery to do it.

The plan has gone nowhere; Berger’s office is skeptical of its long-term sustainability.

PolitiFact considers this promise Stalled.

Boost voter participation

Cooper said on the campaign trail he’d pass laws that encourage voting and fight to allow online voter registration.

Going into a critical election year for Democrats, Cooper hasn’t made progress on either promise. Before the state Supreme Court struck down Republicans’ elections board changes, Cooper said the promise hinged on that case.

With the court’s decision on Jan. 26, the governor’s party will control elections boards at the state and county levels, which could have implications for voting hours and poll locations.

Nonetheless, until voting laws change, PolitiFact considers this promise to be Stalled.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

About PolitiFact NC

PolitiFact is a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit newsroom that’s part of the Poynter Institute, a global leader in journalism training and innovation. PolitiFact’s primary mission is to hold elected officials and pundits accountable by fact-checking their claims.

The organization has bureaus in more than a dozen states, including North Carolina. The PolitiFact North Carolina reporter is Paul A. Specht, who’s also a state government reporter for The News & Observer.

Specht and his editors are trained to fact-check the state’s politicians and prominent figures. Part of their job includes maintaining the Coop-O-Meter, which tracks Gov. Roy Cooper’s progress in fulfilling promises he made on the campaign trail.

Cooper on his first year

“My goals as governor are to help all North Carolinians be better educated, healthier and have more money in their pockets so that they can live more abundant, purposeful lives. Over the past year, we’ve had a good start as my administration has made working families a priority,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a Medium post in December.

Republicans on Cooper’s first year

“Gov. Cooper is most effective when he works with the General Assembly and supports our proven approach to improving the state’s economy and education systems. That's why we are confident he will put good policies and prosperity ahead of partisanship in 2018 to help House Republicans continue vaulting North Carolina ahead of our competition,” Joseph Kyzer, spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore, said in a statement.