Charlotte, N.C. — Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper gave a glimpse Friday of the charges and counter-charges North Carolina residents can expect to hear over the next four-plus months as the men battle to win the gubernatorial race in the November election.
In a debate hosted by the North Carolina Bar Association as part of its annual meeting, the two candidates addressed questions on teacher pay, taxes and House Bill 2, among others.
While McCrory talked up his "Carolina comeback" and the decline in unemployment statewide and new investments in infrastructure, Cooper quickly went on the attack, accusing the governor of hurting the state.
"I think Gov. McCrory has failed us," Cooper said. "He has put his extreme social, partisan agenda ahead of jobs and schools, and we have all paid the price."
With regard to the controversial House Bill 2, he said McCrory has blamed the Obama administration, the media and the performers and businesses who have balked at the law, which requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond to their birth genders and excludes gay and transgender people from state discrimination protections, for the nationwide criticism North Carolina has received instead of trying to repeal the law.
"I have no interest in government being the bathroom or PC police," McCrory said, adding that private businesses should decide what's best for themselves but that schools need to have bathrooms segregated by gender.
The candidates attacked each other's records on education spending and taxes, as the respective campaigns issued a flurry of "fact check" emails to reporters.
"When he was in the state Senate, he increased the sales tax on everything," McCrory said. "He increased the corporate tax on every business. He increased the income tax on every wage-earner in North Carolina. He increased the gas tax on every one of you who fill up your tank. And at the same time, he doubled state spending."
Cooper said the General Assembly cut taxes for working-class families when he was a lawmaker, and he criticized McCrory's support of corporate tax cuts and increased sales taxes in recent years as benefiting the wealthy at the expense of others.
"What we need is a tax policy that's fair to the middle class, that's fair to working people," he said. "Yes, they've cut taxes, a lot of money ... but the benefit of that has been to those with the upper incomes and the corporations."
The tax cuts have hurt state spending on education, Cooper said, noting that teacher morale is low because the state is asking more of them without giving them any support.
McCrory noted he has pushed to raise the salaries of starting teachers over the past two years to bring more qualified people into the teaching profession and has backed legislative efforts to increase pay for veteran teachers as well.
"There's only one person up here who actually has a North Carolina teaching degree, and that's this person," he said, pointing at himself. "I've actually taught."
He added that his efforts to secure passage of the Connect NC bond initiative in March has resulted in investments in updated labs and other buildings on university and community college campuses statewide.
"This governor is preparing for the future," McCrory said. "Now is not the time to take the state back to the good-ol'-boy system, raising taxes, having inefficient government, high unemployment and no teacher pay raises."
"The governor's idea of leadership is to take credit for every success and then to point a finger of blame for every failure," Cooper said. "We need leaders who can work to understand the challenges that we face and try to tackle them instead of pretending that they don't exist. We need leaders who will lift all of us up and not just the select few."