Raleigh, N.C. — Shortly after issuing his first vetoes on Thursday, Gov. Pat McCrory criticized Attorney General Roy Cooper for his outspoken stance against the elections law that the governor signed into law on Monday.
Cooper launched a petition on change.org last week to rally opposition to the bill, calling it "regressive elections legislation."
"The attorney general gave me his political opinion, not his legal opinion," McCrory said in an interview with WRAL News.
McCrory said he would have preferred a standalone voter ID bill, but never considered vetoing the wide-ranging proposal.
The NAACP and other group immediately sued to block the law, which requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. Among its other provisions, it reduces the early voting period from 17 to 10 days, eliminates same-day voter registration during early voting and ends straight-ticket voting.
The Attorney General's Office will likely have to defend the law against such court challenges, and McCrory said Cooper's public opposition doesn't help that defense.
"It is a concern of mine that he has possibly showed a conflict as the chief legal representative of our state in his bringing a case against it and it not being a legal case," McCrory said.
Cooper responded by noting that his personal opinions have no bearing on him carrying out his legal obligations as attorney general.
“It’s the duty of this office to defend state laws in court whether or not I agree with them, and we have an excellent track record," Cooper said in a statement. "My ultimate duty is to the people of North Carolina, and I’m going to tell them what I think about laws that have an impact on their lives, and that includes trying to stop bad laws and advocating for good ones.”
McCrory also called Republican legislative leaders Thursday, urging them not to attempt an override of either of his vetoes.
"I think it would be wise for them not to waste their time and come back on either one of these vetoes, but I anticipate them coming back, and I think it’s going to be an interesting vote," he said. "Both of these pieces of legislation I vetoed step on the toes of both the left and the right, and I’m not afraid to do that as leader of this state."
One vetoed bill called for people to pass a drug test to receive welfare benefits. The governor called it "a bad piece of legislation."
"What typically happens – and we see this with 'Obamacare' – is they pass a concept, and they have no idea how it's going to be implemented," he said.
The other bill would have eased the requirements for employers to verify the immigration status of some workers, which McCrory said could allow businesses to hire more undocumented workers.
"This was a bill disguised to help farmers," he said, adding that some lawmakers might have been confused about the measure.
McCrory said the two vetoes aren't a sign of conflict with the Republican-led General Assembly.
"It's a disagreement over policy," he said. "When I was (Charlotte) mayor, I vetoed bills right and left."