Cooper bests McCrory with deeper grasp of issues in debate

Candidates for Governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory (R), left, shakes hands with Roy Cooper (D) at the end of a debate at WRAL studios in Raleigh.
Candidates for Governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory (R), left, shakes hands with Roy Cooper (D) at the end of a debate at WRAL studios in Raleigh. cseward@newsobserver.com

As evidenced Tuesday in his final debate at WRAL-TV with his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper (Libertarian Lon Cecil also participated), Republican Gov. Pat McCrory continues to think of the governor’s office as being mayor of Charlotte writ large. It is not that. Cooper simply showed a depth of understanding of the issues that affect North Carolina’s working families and how he would make their lives better.

McCrory touted his “Carolina Comeback,” wherein the state’s unemployment rate has been lowered — true — and business is on the upswing. That point is up for debate, especially in the wake of the catastrophic HB2, the legislature’s outrageous law scuttling discrimination protections from the Charlotte City Council for the LGBT community. The law also prevented local communities from enacting anti-discrimination measures of their own and from raising the minimum wage.

McCrory tried in the debate to tout his record based on tax cuts and reduced unemployment benefits that he said allowed the state to pay off $2.5 billion borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits in the wake of the Great Recession.

The problem with the governor’s arguments is that the tax cuts mostly helped business and the wealthy, because cuts for individuals were made up with other taxes, on things like car repairs and other services. So those in the middle class, Cooper rightly argued, may find themselves actually paying more taxes. Cooper wants tax cuts redirected, not to increase taxes. He wants HB2 repealed. He wants to aim more benefits at working people, the middle class.

The governor also is running on paying off that unemployment money from the feds. He speaks of how great the payoff is for business, relieving a burden that hindered growth. But what was that great burden? It was $21 a year, per worker, for every year the debt wasn’t paid off. If the state had not accelerated the payments, the debt would have been paid eventually.

But Republicans drastically cut benefits. Was putting the boot on the necks of these people a “Carolina Comeback” for them? No, and the governor’s failure to expand Medicaid at no cost to the state also put another boot on those who needed his help and didn’t get it.

The governor touts his support of a teacher pay hike. It’s a positive, but it’s no coincidence that Republicans found religion on teacher pay in an election year.

Then there was HB2. He signed it the day it passed. And he’s tried to minimize the loss of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars. The firestorm over HB2 has simply underlined his ineffectiveness.

Unfortunately, McCrory is running on a record that isn’t much of a record. Cooper may find as a Democrat a stone wall at the legislature, but at least if the Republicans want a fight, he will give them one.