N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper attacked Gov. Pat McCrory over HB2, Medicaid and taxes Saturday at the state Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner.
Voters are likely to hear a lot more on those themes over the next five months as Democrat Cooper challenges Republican McCrory in one of the nation’s most competitive races for governor.
Cooper persistently labeled McCrory “divisive,” comparing the first-term governor to his party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, while distancing McCrory from Republican leaders often seen as more moderate.
“Gov. McCrory and Donald Trump are a lot alike,” Cooper said. “They both use this divisive rhetoric as a political tool to try to divide us … We’ve seen the consequences of putting your divisive social agenda above jobs and schools with the signing of House Bill 2.”
Cooper told hundreds of supporters in attendance that McCrory’s actions as governor even run contradictory to those of some other Republicans, including his unwillingness to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid.
“We could be bringing in billions of dollars from the federal government,” Cooper said. “One hundred percent coverage for Medicaid expansion, hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians covered. (New Jersey) Gov. Chris Christie thought it was a great idea to bring thousands of jobs to his state in the healthcare industry. He took the money.
“Gov. John Kasich thought it was a good idea to take the money for his people in Ohio, but Gov. McCrory, no. He’s got to put that divisive social agenda ahead of jobs and schools, and it’s not right.”
President Obama’s health care law called for opening the Medicaid program of federal- and state-paid health insurance to Americans making up to 138 percent of what are considered poverty-level incomes. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed states to refuse to take the money that eventually would require a 10 percent state match.
McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz responded to Cooper’s comments in a statement. “The sad reality is that he wants to avoid questions about his extreme high tax, big government agenda and talk about anything else except how North Carolina has the lowest unemployment in 8 years and the fastest growing economy in the country under Governor McCrory's leadership,” Diaz said.
Though Cooper touted his vision for increasing teacher salaries, financing Medicaid, repealing House Bill 2 and removing burdens on the middle class, he did not provide specific details as to how he would implement his agenda as governor. Instead, he spent much of the speech targeting McCrory.
Cooper took aim at tax changes the governor has signed into law, including expanding sales taxes to include car repairs and other services – part of a shift to lower income tax rates.
McCrory criticized that change but signed the state budget that contained it, saying it also included many positive things.
“When you tax services that everyday working people get, you know that’s not right for North Carolina,” Cooper said. “Gov. McCrory promised tax cuts when he came into office. He did that for those at the top, but many middle class families are paying even more than they were before he became governor, and that’s wrong.”
McCrory and Republican legislators also eliminated tax credits for the working poor as part of lowering income taxes.
“They eliminated the earned income tax credit, which encourages people to work,” he said. “Ronald Reagan was for that!”
If elected, Cooper recognized he would face an uphill battle if Republicans maintain commanding majorities in the General Assembly.
“We have to get enough Democrats elected to the state legislature to make a difference,” Cooper said.
Speaking with reporters after the event, he declined to directly answer a couple of questions.
Asked if he would support the Obama administration directive for schools to allow students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, he pivoted to HB2 – which requires transgender people in government facilities to use the bathroom matching their birth certificate, and which also blocks local LGBT anti-discrimination laws.
“House Bill 2 goes way beyond bathrooms,” Cooper said. “I know Gov. McCrory wants to make this campaign about where you go to the bathroom, but I want to make it about where North Carolina goes from here. What we’ve got to do is start talking about good paying jobs and schools, and you’ve got to take House Bill 2 off the table before you can do that instead of using this issue to whip up the right-wing base.”
Diaz responded in his statement that Cooper “is the one with the extreme agenda, refusing to stand up to Washington, D.C.’s attempt to take away the privacy of our kids in school showers, locker rooms and restrooms.”
When asked to clarify whether he’d support the federal requirement, Cooper said he wants HB2 repealed.