Pinehurst, N.C. — Candidates for North Carolina's governor's office traded time Thursday morning pitching their plans for the state to Raleigh business leaders.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic rival Roy Cooper spoke at a candidate forum in Pinehurst sponsored by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. Cooper was critical of McCrory's record, while the governor defended his position on recent controversial laws.
Cooper derided the "Carolina comeback" often touted by McCrory, saying North Carolinians are working harder, for longer hours and less money than before the economic recession in 2008. But the state is primed to move forward, Cooper said, as long as it has the right leadership.
"I think people are hungry for those (leaders) who can emerge from these kinds of partisan fights, ignore the personal barbs, ignore as much as possible the politics and then sit down, roll up their sleeves, get something done (and) find common ground," Cooper told the Chamber crowd.
McCrory said he had provided business-oriented leadership that his political predecessors never did, such as privatizing economic development efforts, focusing on job training instead of paying out unemployment compensation and finding ways to boost government efficiency and customer service.
"This is the stuff that makes a difference – changing the things that aren't working and strengthening the things that are," he said.
McCrory boasted about the numbers his administration achieved: He said North Carolina's unemployment rate is down, corporate and income tax rates are down and teacher pay is up – and rising – since he took office. The drop in income and corporate taxes, he said, make the state competitive for jobs not just in the Southeast, but around the world.
Cooper said he wouldn't call for raising taxes, but he doesn't think corporate taxes should be cut further. Businesses would benefit more, he said, by the state investing more in education to deliver a trained workforce.
Cooper also called House Bill 2 "a problem" for business by scaring off economic development prospects and painting the state as one that discriminates and isn't welcoming.
"Right now, we have a governor who is putting partisan political ideology above the best interest of jobs and schools and economic development," he said. "People across the country are looking at this governor's race as a signal for who north Carolina is. Who are we?"
"Are we the state that wants to be open and welcoming to all kinds of people to make sure that we can move forward? I believe that's who we are," Cooper continued. "And I think, this November, it's going to be critical for us to show the rest of the country that."
McCrory responded by saying he had never heard of a problem with gender identities and bathrooms until the "political left" brought it up.
"It's a change in our basic culture, values and norms," he said, calling the U.S. Department of Justice's inclusion of gender identity in the federal definition of sex discrimination "government overreach."
In addition to defending House Bill 2, he said he also supports the state's recently overturned voter ID law.
"I'm going to fight for those values because that's what makes us even stronger," McCrory said. "This is common sense north carolina, and we cannot lose those basic values and I'm going to fight for those values, because I'm running for governor of North Carolina, not governor of New York."
McCrory also swiped at New York's state boycott of North Carolina over House Bill 2, a boycott that has so far cost the state some conventions and basketball games.
"When Governor Cuomo says we're going to boycott North Carolina, what difference does it make?" McCrory asked the audience, pointing to census figures on in-migration. "Half of New York has already moved here."