Copyright 2017 News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
All Rights Reserved
News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
RALEIGH - Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper urged lawmakers gathered Monday night to repeal the state's "bathroom bill" very soon, saying the law is "the dark cloud hanging over our state of promise" by harming North Carolina's economy and reputation.
Delivering his first State of the State speech as governor to the Republican-controlled legislature, Cooper almost immediately addressed the law known as House Bill 2, which limits LGBT rights and the restrooms transgender people can use in schools and other government buildings.
Cooper, the attorney general for the past 16 years, narrowly defeated GOP Gov. Pat McCrory last fall with a platform that emphasized McCrory's support for HB 2. He said people are sick of the law and wondering whether "this heavy anchor weighing us down" will be cut away.
"The law has damaged our state," Cooper told House and Senate members gathered in the House chamber for the biennial gubernatorial speech. "The legislature must erase this law from our books. It drains the energy from what should be our work for the people of this state."
Cooper and GOP legislators also have been entangled over what to do about the law, which has caused some businesses and sporting events to spurn North Carolina in the name of fighting discrimination, leading to moving last month's NBA All-Star game out of Charlotte and NCAA championships from the state this academic year.
Compromises have crumbled since December. Pressure has increased to find a solution before the NCAA soon decides whether to remove North Carolina locations from a bid to host championship events through 2022.
Cooper wants a complete HB 2 repeal, but Republicans say some additional restrictions are necessary.
"Pass a compromise repeal that works to eliminate discrimination and brings back jobs, sports and entertainment and I will sign it - as long as it truly gets the job done," he said. "Let's do it this week. It's time to move on."
Area legislators reacted to Cooper's remarks along party lines, with Democrats finding much to praise in the lofty goals he touted and in what they saw as the olive branches he extended to the other side of the aisle.
But Republicans said Cooper's first State of the State address left much to be desired, with state Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) calling the governor "the Left's new champion" and labeling Cooper's vision for North Carolina's future "a mirage."
"What the press undoubtedly will praise as a return to the Golden Age is in reality a step back to out-of-control spending, back to high taxes, back to blindly throwing money at an education bureaucracy that fails to put students first," Berger said in giving the GOP's formal response.
State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Greensboro) said "there were no surprises" in Cooper's remarks, but pledged to work with the governor "despite our differences."
"We won't agree on every issue, but there are areas where we can find common ground," Hardister said. "Some of these areas include public education, criminal justice reform and building a strong infrastructure."
State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) appreciated Cooper's "efforts to reach out where there are areas of common ground" on such topics as improving the education system, "jump-starting the economy" and bettering the average resident's quality of life.
She noted several areas such as extending broadband internet service into rural areas that drew applause from members of both parties. But she also applauded the governor for tackling the uncomfortable subject of House Bill 2 directly in the early moments of his speech.
"Clearly, this is a sensitive subject for Republicans," Harrison said.
State Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-High Point) praised the governor's "promising and optimistic vision for North Carolina."
"His priorities of repealing HB 2, raising teacher pay and bringing jobs to the state are something that both parties should be able to agree on," Brockman said.
Cooper addressed a General Assembly that has fought him in court and in public since he was declared the winner in early December. Just before he took office Jan. 1, GOP legislators passed laws that stripped Cooper of his powers, including Senate confirmation of his Cabinet. Cooper sued over the laws and the litigation is pending.
Although his budget proposal released two weeks ago has been panned by GOP senators as bloated, Cooper focused on some initiatives in it that Republicans seemed to like in principle.
They include higher teacher pay, the revival of a college loan forgiveness program for aspiring teachers and legislation to combat the state's growing opioid addiction problem.
He reinforced his earlier announced goals to make North Carolina a top-10 leader among states in pre-K participation, high school graduation rates and the percentage of adults with higher education degrees.
"We have to measure our progress and hold ourselves accountable," he said.
He pushed his effort for community college scholarships and to revive a program providing forgivable loans for college students who agree to become teachers.
While the state economy has been recovering since the Great Recession, Cooper said there are still problems for regular North Carolina residents.
"I want North Carolinians to be better educated, healthier and have more money in their pockets," Cooper said, adding that financially "too many people feel stuck in the middle" and "feel left behind by a system that isn't listening to them and an economy that isn't rewarding them for their hard work."
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter