We were wrong, Mr. Berger, about the governor

The Observer editorial board

Republican leaders Rep. Tim Moore, left, and Sen. Phil Berger, at a news conference last week.
Republican leaders Rep. Tim Moore, left, and Sen. Phil Berger, at a news conference last week. AP

For decades, in the Charlotte Observer’s internal publishing system, there’s been a daily digital file called “WWW.” It stands for We Were Wrong, and it’s where reporters go if they have a correction for the next day’s newspaper. The task is both dreaded and necessary, because while no one wants to make a mistake, each of us understands the importance of setting the record straight.

So here goes: We were wrong, Phil Berger, about the governor.

In an editorial last week, we raised a skeptical eyebrow at the N.C. Senate leader’s claims that Gov. Roy Cooper had proposed and agreed to an HB2 compromise that left intact a ban on governments from setting non-discrimination policies.

Berger, along with House Speaker Tim Moore, even released excerpts of emails showing the governor was at least considering a compromise that Republican leaders wanted. But, as we wrote last week, it was a stretch to believe Cooper would actually agree to leave the LGBT community vulnerable to discrimination.


As it turns out, Cooper was indeed open to sacrificing gay, lesbian and transgender protections for the prospect of bringing NCAA championship events and other possible business to North Carolina. That’s apparent now with his signing of HB 142 – a deal that’s different than the one Berger waved around at his mid-week news conference, but one that’s just as bad.

Do we think Cooper actually agreed to that deal then, as Berger said? Probably not. It’s more likely that Berger and Moore jumped the gun to apply some pressure.

But, as it also turns out, we now have another governor you might not be able to believe. We wrote that about Pat McCrory, too, shortly after he broke a campaign promise not to sign legislation that would restrict abortions. McCrory made a political calculation with that decision – if he had vetoed the abortion legislation, he likely would’ve faced an embarrassing override from the conservative House and Senate. Instead, he told another whopper about how he was actually trying to prevent restrictions to abortions by signing the law.

Cooper also made a political calculation last week – that it was worth getting HB2 off the books, and that the progressives angry with him now will eventually come back to him the next time he’s fighting Republicans. Cooper also might have calculated, as some progressives have, that this was the best deal he was going to get from Republicans.

But there’s a danger with political calculations. When you start basing decisions on strategy and forget about vows – or about what’s simply right – then voters lose faith in what you tell them. It’s partly what doomed Pat McCrory, who campaigned as a moderate Republican, then betrayed that promise regularly.

Of course, McCrory and Cooper are far from the first public officials to say one thing and do another. And it’s certainly true that voters have a heightened tolerance for spin – or at least a greater expectation of it. But we still want to believe that our leaders will keep their word, especially when it’s a significant declaration. That’s what we thought Roy Cooper would do. We were wrong.