It took longer than it needed to, and it was uglier than it should’ve been, but North Carolina has a new governor. After almost a month of denying election results and conjuring up visions of voter fraud, Pat McCrory finally accepted Monday that voters have denied him another four years.
By bowing out, McCrory becomes the first N.C. governor to lose a bid for re-election. Democrat Roy Cooper becomes our state’s 75th governor, and he inherits what McCrory was never able to control – a conservative super-majority in the N.C. House and Senate.
Our advice to the new governor: Be loud.
Cooper, like McCrory, will have little legislative oomph in North Carolina, at least at first. Republican Senate leader Phil Berger remains the most powerful man in N.C. politics, with Republican House Speaker Tim Moore not far behind. If Cooper vetoes legislation that arrives at his desk, he can expect Berger and Moore to promptly – and perhaps dismissively – deliver an override.
That shouldn’t stop Cooper from saying no to the kind of bills that a moderate governor wouldn’t have signed the past four years, including unnecessary abortion restrictions, punitive unemployment reform and, of course, HB2.
It also shouldn’t stop Cooper from speaking up for the moderate and progressive positions he championed as attorney general and as a candidate for governor. What Cooper does have is a bully pulpit. He can make a case to North Carolinians – and perhaps to moderate state lawmakers – that North Carolina needs to steer itself in a different direction. He should make that case whenever possible.
Be loud, Governor.
For decades, North Carolina has been proud to stand out in the South for progressive policies and visionary leadership. From Terry Sanford to Jim Hunt to Jim Martin, our state has been blessed with governors from both parties who helped bring prosperity, economic diversity, an elite higher education system and environmental policies that were a model for other states.
Now, North Carolina has been stained by laws such as HB2 and voter restrictions that targeted minorities. Although our state, like many, has enjoyed job growth in this improving U.S. economy, our governor has been scorned and our legislature ridiculed. HB2, in particular, has cost us hundreds of millions of dollars in business revenue. It could hurt the state for years to come.
It also quite likely cost Republicans the governor’s mansion. While some have argued that HB2 didn’t have much effect on N.C. House and Senate races, that’s largely because of gerrymandered legislative districts. The governor’s race (along with Democrat Josh Stein replacing Cooper as attorney general) showed that statewide, many North Carolinians weren’t happy with leadership in Raleigh.
Change, certainly, will be difficult. Despite his victory, Cooper has little chance of getting a progressive agenda passed. But he can begin to turn North Carolina back toward the vibrant, progressive tradition it long enjoyed.
He doesn’t have to do so in an adversarial way. He doesn’t have to be divisive. But North Carolinians have decided to give him their voice. He should use it, loudly.