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Politics
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McCrory And Cooper Throw Sharp Political Elbows In First Debate

Pat McCrory and Roy Cooper shake hands
John D. Simmons
/
Charlotte Observer
Gov. Pat McCrory (left) and Attorney General Roy Cooper greet each other after their debate Friday, June 24, 2016.

There seems to be just one thing Pat McCrory and Roy Cooper agree on…they both think North Carolina is the best state. But when it comes to taxes and teacher pay, House Bill 2 and I-77 toll lanes, the two men vying to be North Carolina’s governor clashed in their first election-year debate.

Republican Governor Pat McCrory began his opening remarks with an anecdote about his first days in office and a meeting with the governor of the other Carolina. "Nikki Haley, my good friend from South Carolina, the governor of South Carolina told me in 2012, 'we don’t even see North Carolina as competition anymore,'" when it came to luring companies and creating jobs.

That, McCrory said, has now changed. "No longer are we the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country. We’re now one of the fastest growing economies in the United States of America. North Carolina."

There was, of course, talk of the Carolina Comeback. But also a twist on what may be the most well-known political catchphrase in America when McCrory said he built a team "to rebuild North Carolina and make it great again, that’s what we did in a short three years."

When his turn came Democrat Roy Cooper wasted no time throwing the first political punch when he said  McCrory "has put his extreme social, partisan agenda ahead of jobs and schools."

A clear reference to House Bill 2, which was also the subject of the first question posed by Gerald Owens of WRAL TV. "Governor McCrory, how will House Bill 2 shape your party’s image not only in North Carolina but around the country in the years ahead?"

McCrory did not specifically answer that question. Instead, he blamed the controversy on what he called the radical left and the ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council. "I have no interest in having government being the bathroom or PC police. And that’s exactly what the city of Charlotte did."

And he claimed Cooper wants to let boys shower with girls.

"Governor McCrory wants to make this campaign be about where you go to the bathroom," is how Cooper began his response, adding, "I want this campaign to be about where North Carolina goes from here."

McCrory was chuckling throughout that statement.

And so it went for much of the debate. With claims of bad leadership, flip flopping and bad priorities being lobbed by each candidate. Both claimed only they would cut taxes for the middle class. Both claimed their opponent, and members of the other political party, have a ruinous economic track record.

And when one panelist asked Roy Cooper if he would advise a new teacher to go to work here in North Carolina or go elsewhere where they could make more money Cooper replied, "I would tell them to teach right here in North Carolina because, hold on, I’m coming."

McCrory countered with, "You better watch out, he’s been there for 28 years." A reference to how long Cooper has been in state government.

Teachers, they both stated, deserved to be paid more. My opponent, they both claimed, is the reason their paychecks are so small.

This debate was held at a hotel in Uptown Charlotte. So it was inevitable they were asked about the controversial I-77 toll lane project. Specifically, did they think the contract should be canceled?

McCrory answered first…by saying how he got rid of the good ol’ boy network and took politics out of transportation project. And as for the contract, he blamed that on the lawyers who signed off on the wording. Attorneys who work for Roy Cooper. "And not one time did his lawyers object to that contract or say anything was wrong with that contract."

And he said the state is working on some redesigns to make the toll project even better. But you’ll note, McCrory never directly answered the question. Not so for Cooper. "Yes," he said, "the I-77 contract should be canceled."

It wasn’t until the very end the two men agreed on anything. And that was the politically required profession of love for the state they each seek to lead for the next four years.