Cooper sets the right tone – and priorities

Gov. Cooper delivers Inaugural Address via video

New North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper delivered his Inaugural Address via video from the Executive Mansion after winter weather forced the postponement of inaugural ceremonies.
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New North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper delivered his Inaugural Address via video from the Executive Mansion after winter weather forced the postponement of inaugural ceremonies.

Roy Cooper has come to the governor’s office with arguably more qualifications than any previous occupant. Lawyer, legislator, attorney general. At 59, he is tested and ready. And in his inaugural address, Cooper offered some forward-thinking ideas and priorities.

And yes, they are priorities a conservative Republican majority in the General Assembly, which unfortunately has been defined almost exclusively by negativity, ought to be able to embrace.

Here are the early issues facing the soon-to-be-in-residence legislature, and the governor:

HB2 — This anchor has held the state back long enough. Republicans seemed to understand that when they came to town in special session for the expressed purpose of repealing it. But partisan dispute over whether Charlotte’s city council did as it said it would do in repealing the ordinance that started it all, and Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger’s failure to unite his caucus, left HB2 in place. Cooper, Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, all of them not from big cities but from areas still struggling, ought to be able to forge an end game for HB2, the disastrous “bathroom bill” hindering anti-discrimination laws protecting all people.

Education — Cooper certainly will push for more investment in public education, including teacher pay and better compensation for principals, who are among the lowest paid in the country. No better bipartisan issue has yet emerged.

De-regulation — Lawmakers want to continue their push for deregulation of business. Cooper is right to stand in the way of things that might harm the environment or end worker protections — but Republicans ought to be reasonable is trying to find common ground on other issues. Maybe there are regulations that are excessive; if so, let them make the case for the governor’s support rather than using their veto-proof majorities to do whatever they want to do.

Taxes — Lawmakers slashed taxes for business and for the wealthy. In so doing, they’ve curbed revenues and thus limited what government has the resources to do for the disadvantaged North Carolinians or those still suffering from the Great Recession. Cooper as a lawmaker favored lower taxes — but he understood the need for revenue adequate to meet needs in education.

Medicaid — Continuing the stand against Medicaid expansion is a foolish, stubborn stance for Republicans who originally opposed expansion for no reason other than the fact that it was part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But 500,000 North Carolinians might have coverage under expansion, and the state’s hospitals might well pay for the state’s relatively modest expense here, most of which would be carried by the federal government.

Cabinet confirmations — Republicans have invoked a rarely-used provision that allows the Senate to confirm or reject Cooper’s Cabinet appointees. Here’s an opportunity for GOP lawmakers to avoid an unnecessary and purely partisan confrontation and give Cooper the same freedom to pick a team of leaders that previous governors, Republican and Democratic, have enjoyed.

Budget — Cooper will submit one, likely one more generous toward the less fortunate and toward public education than those Republicans have passed. Let us hope they don’t just shelve the governor’s proposals.

In Roy Cooper, Republicans in the General Assembly now have a smart, savvy former legislator in the governor’s office. Roy Cooper understands his office and he understands how the legislature works. He knows state government, which ought to gain him some respect from Berger and Moore, who have ruled as if the state had no governor at all.