GOP legislature makes Cooper's job more difficult
Posted December 5, 2016
Updated December 6, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — When it comes to sheer power, North Carolina's governor ranks as one of the weakest in the country. The governor has no line-item veto – a veto of any kind wasn't allowed until 20 years ago – and no say over redistricting.
Democrat Roy Cooper will take over as governor next month facing Republican super-majorities in the House and the Senate, and he is expected to face the toughest test of his political career in trying to work with lawmakers to move the state forward.
"It's going to be difficult," North Carolina State University political science professor Andy Taylor said. "It's not the most enviable strategic position, but the office has a great deal of value politically."
Taylor defined that value in terms of powerful political appointments and the governor's bully pulpit.
"I'd suspect he's going to spend a lot of time trying to change K-12 education, at least as far as resources are concerned," Taylor said.
Cooper recognized the likely scenario of a divided state government during the campaign, but he told WRAL News in an interview that he was prepared to work with Republican lawmakers.
"What we have to do is roll up our sleeves and say, 'All right, we're going to ignore all of the partisanship during the campaign. We're going to ignore the personal insults.' All of that stuff is, unfortunately, now par for the course," Cooper said. "You can't take that into policymaking with you. You have to roll up your sleeves and find where you can agree."
Lawmakers usually set the policy agenda, but the governor takes the lead on the state budget.
"Working with legislators, there's a lot of give and take on legislation and the budget," said Gerry Cohen, a longtime legislative staffer who now works on the government relations team for the Nelson Mullins law firm.
Cohen said Cooper's 30 years as a lawmaker and state attorney general should help him work with the General Assembly.
"I think you've got to have a lot of political savvy to get elected to the state House when you are, when he was 29," he said. "(To) never lose an election and beat an incumbent governor, you have to have some political savvy. How that translates into being governor, we'll see."
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger set an aggressive tone Monday when he issued a statement congratulating Cooper on his election after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceded.
"We hope Gov.-elect Cooper is willing to work with us to continue improving public education and cutting taxes on families and job creators – policies championed by Gov. McCrory that have generated budget surpluses, robust economic growth and hundreds of thousands of new jobs," Berger, R-Rockingham, said in the statement. "Given that Gov.-elect Cooper won his new office with a razor-thin plurality, it is clear there is no ground swell of public support for his campaign pledge of a massive income tax increase on our state's citizens and businesses."
Finding common ground will be the challenge, but one opportunity could be President-elect Donald Trump's plan to invest in infrastructure. Cooper and lawmakers have championed improving the state's infrastructure to boost the economy.
Lawmakers also face the pressure of possibly running in another election next fall after federal judges ordered them to redraw legislative district maps, observers said, so they may be amenable to having successes they can point to when they hit the campaign trail.
"It's a tough position, but it's not unworkable," Taylor said.