Under the Dome

Cooper: More important issues than LGBT bathrooms

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper greets fellow Democrats before speaking to the Uptown Democratic Forum, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. Cooper is running for governor.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper greets fellow Democrats before speaking to the Uptown Democratic Forum, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. Cooper is running for governor. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

UPDATED Attorney General Roy Cooper on Tuesday said he thinks state lawmakers should deal with more important matters than the controversy in Charlotte over a new ordinance that will allow transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice.

He said attorneys in his office have concluded that there are already sufficient criminal laws to address the issue.

“We’ve got 4,500 people who have lost jobs since Jan. 1,” Cooper said. “We have teachers leaving the state of North Carolina. We have about $400 million in taxes that has just been put on North Carolina middle-class families. And this is the issue that the governor wants to talk about in bringing before the General Assembly? I don’t think so.

“I think we need to be working on priorities that help North Carolina families and help public education. That’s what we should be concentrating on, not this.”

Josh Ellis, the governor’s spokesman, on Tuesday night pointed out that McCrory had also urged Charlotte’s city council to focus on important matters, and that this issue was not one of them. McCrory, in an email to council members earlier this month, said the city was “causing more problems by trying to solve a problem that does not exist,”

“It’s the liberal mayor and Charlotte City Council members who initiated this extreme distraction from other priorities — not the governor,” Ellis said.

Cooper made the remarks to reporters after the monthly Council of State meeting in Raleigh.

The state Republican Party has been pressuring Cooper to take a public stand on the issue, which began with the recent passage by the Charlotte City Council of an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people.

Gov. Pat McCrory and some GOP lawmakers said legislators would move quickly to overturn the ordinance. However, McCrory and Berger’s office have not voiced interest in calling a special session just for that purpose. The General Assembly is scheduled to begin its short session on April 25.

Cooper, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, said his office looked into the issue at the request of legislative leaders.

“I think it’s important that everyone feels safe,” Cooper said. “Even with the passage of this ordinance it doesn’t change anything in the North Carolina criminal law. Investigators and prosecutors still have the authority to arrest criminals and I certainly have offered our attorneys’ assistance to law enforcement and prosecutors throughout the state to make sure that they are on top of things with our public facilities.”

Russell Peck, who is McCrory’s campaign manager, issued a statement in response.

"An attorney general – a state's top lawyer and chief law enforcement officer – has a sworn obligation to promote public safety and represent the people above special interests,” Peck said. “In supporting a radical special interest plan to open bathrooms and locker rooms to the opposite sex, Roy Cooper is failing families and children across North Carolina."

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