I didn’t vote for Governor McCrory but I rooted for him anyway. As North Carolina came out of recession, counties like mine came out slower than average, and one couldn’t help but root for the man in charge.
I knew he was a Republican, but we’re all in this together, and I hoped for the best, expecting the governor to represent the party of Tim Scott, Nikki Haley and John McCain. But that McCrory never made it out of Charlotte.
Torn between those embracing America’s changing demographics and those fighting every change, Pat McCrory chose the wrong side of a Republican civil war, and North Carolina paid the price.
We expected a moderate, and based on McCrory’s record as a mayor, we had every right to expect him to govern from the center-right, just like Governor Kasich in Ohio, which is another battleground state.
McCrory ran as an outsider who would clean up state government, and that’s why we elected him, not to overhaul a university system that’s worked for hundreds of years, but to preside over economic recovery and to preserve North Carolina’s image as the progressive leader of a New South.
Your guess is as good as mine what happened next. I never understood why McCrory never brought in Charlotte business leaders to serve in his administration, why he filled his cabinet with strangers and partisan hacks, whether he’d even met his chief-of-staff before he hired him, and why he gave the budget to Art Pope.
But we all know the rest.
I didn’t agree with his policies but I understood refusing to expand Medicaid for fear of having to pay Washington back, and cutting unemployment benefits and the Earned Income Tax Credit to save the state money during tough times.
I understood the reasoning, but I also understood that those sacrifices weren’t asked of North Carolina’s wealthy; just the poor and the middle-class.
The recession hit North Carolina hard, we were already transitioning from a manufacturing economy to one based in service, and the citizens of North Carolina needed each other during difficult times, but McCrory wanted every man for himself.
I don’t blame those bills as much on him, or the members of the General Assembly as I do the voters who stayed home in 2010, because they elected a conservative government, and we got one.
But we also elected Governor McCrory to stand up to the legislature, and in the end he never did. He allowed Thom Tillis and Phil Berger to dictate terms, and he signed their social agenda without opposition, because they agreed on tax cuts for the rich.
The Carolina Comeback never made it out of North Carolina’s cities, and in the end, McCrory’s economic vision never included rural North Carolina or the working-class.
For over a century North Carolina conquered the strains of the Gilded Age and the Great Depression by investing in public education; by trying to give every kid a head start. And when teachers were leaving North Carolina in search of better pay, McCrory waited until the end of his term to take notice, and he let us fall behind.
But in the end it was civil rights that will be McCrory’s legacy. North Carolina’s first Republicans fought and died for the rights of African-Americans, including the right to vote. McCrory knew that history. And with more power than any Republican in Raleigh since Reconstruction, the direction of his party was entirely up to him.
Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians don’t exercise their right to vote, most of them are poor, and as the leader of the party of Lincoln, McCrory should have sought to be their voice; instead he signed a bill making it harder to register and harder to vote.
As the former mayor of Charlotte, McCrory should have opposed the General Assembly’s power grabs and their attempts to overrule local ordinances, especially when it came to the rights of minorities. Given the chance to veto House Bill 2, he signed a document that was wrong not just because of discrimination or job loss. But for what it said about us; that we couldn’t trust each other to go to the right bathroom or that we had to protect our children from our friends.
If the governor were serious about preventing the sexual abuse of children, he would have invested in mental health treatment and targeted the opioid epidemic instead of LGBTs. But HB2 was never about children. It was about votes.
And it screwed up March Madness, which is what we used to do best. Most of us are over it. We’re tired of a governor who picks fights with the press, we’re tired of being famous for a protest movement and we’re tired of being the butt of late-night jokes.
We’re optimistic people in North Carolina, we’re inclusive, and we don’t belong in the news unless it’s for winning Final Fours. We used to lead the New South, we’re tired of falling back into the old one, and it’s time for a governor who will lead us again.
Roy Cooper doesn’t have all the answers and a governor Cooper would be limited by a Republican legislature, but he can also limit them. Roy Cooper understands that the economic challenges we face are too complex to be solved by tax-cuts alone, and his agenda rightly prioritizes small-business and rural North Carolina for a change.
But we need to return to normalcy and that’s what Roy Cooper represents.
He’ll govern from the middle, as a moderate progressive in the tradition of Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt, who welcomes new ideas, puts compromise before ideology and education before everything else. That’s the North Carolina we used to know and the North Carolina we can show the world again on November 8th.
Michael A. Cooper, Jr. is an attorney at the McElwee Firm in his hometown of North Wilkesboro.