North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper took his oath of office minutes after midnight Sunday morning, getting an early start on his duties amid bitter partisan politics in the state but saying he believed there is a way forward.
Joined by a small group of family, friends and colleagues, the Democrat was sworn inside the old House chamber of the 1840 Capitol building nearly a week before his public inauguration.
A Cooper aide has said the state's 75th governor wanted to get started on gubernatorial duties following a transition period shortened by a protracted debate over vote-counting in his close race with outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
“I’m aware of the solemn responsibility that I've been given and the duty that I have to uphold the Constitution,” Cooper said shortly after state Chief Justice Mark Martin administered the oath to Cooper during the 15-minute ceremony. “I cannot wait to get started.”
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As governor-elect, Cooper already began taking legislative Republicans to court over the laws passed during a December special session. A state Superior Court judge on Friday temporarily blocked a law that would scale back the control governors exert over statewide and county election boards. Cooper's attorney said more legal challenges are planned this coming week.
I know and I am confident that although we may come at it from different ways that other leaders in this state and I can work together to make North Carolina its very best.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper
Another of the laws requires Cooper’s Cabinet choices to be confirmed by legislators. The state Constitution gives the Senate the ability to “advise and consent” to the governor's appointees by a majority vote, but that provision hadn't been used in at least several decades.
With the GOP still holding veto-proof majorities in the legislature, Cooper's five-minute address to the crowd of about 75 people and a television audience hit on themes of finding common ground. Cooper said he would aim to be a governor for the entire state.
“I know and I am confident that although we may come at it from different ways that other leaders in this state and I can work together to make North Carolina its very best, the kind of North Carolina that we know that we can be,” Cooper said.
Cooper is a 30-year veteran of state politics — 14 years in the legislature before 16 as attorney general -- and claimed victory on election night. But it was another four weeks before McCrory conceded while dozens of ballot protests were considered and a partial recount was held in Durham County.
In the end, Cooper won by about 10,000 votes. A law McCrory signed last March limiting non-discrimination protections for LGBT people and directing which public bathrooms transgender people can use was a big issue in the fall campaign. Cooper wants the law known as House Bill 2 repealed.
Cooper has already begun ushering out stalwarts of the McCrory administration. Dismissal notices were given in the past week to a few dozen McCrory political appointees, Cooper spokeswoman Megan Jacobs said.
Turnover among those positions isn't uncommon, but the swiftness of the dismissals carries extra weight in light of the recent legislation that limits Cooper's number of political appointees to 425. That's less than a third of the number McCrory was allowed to have.
The Rev. Art Ross mentioned the Bible characters Moses, David and Esther in a prayer asking for courage and inspiration for the new governor.
“We’re mindful of these current challenges and divisions, and so we pray that you would grant your servant to govern with wisdom and justice, that he be quick to confess when he is wrong and filled with perseverance when he is right,” Ross said.
Sunday’s ceremony began moments after nearby revelers in downtown Raleigh brought in the new year with fireworks and other festivities.
The public inauguration for Cooper and other statewide elected positions will be held next Saturday, followed by a traditional downtown parade and nighttime ball. Cooper was one of four in these positions who decided to get sworn in on the first possible day allowed by law.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey of Guilford County and State Treasurer Dale Folwell of Winston-Salem held separate ceremonies just after midnight — Folwell at his home and Causey at a fire station. And Democrat Josh Stein, who succeeds Cooper as attorney general, scheduled a midday swearing-in inside the state Department of Justice Building.