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Politics
An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

Cooper Urges HB2 Repeal, Responds To McCrory Ads

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David Boraks
/
WFAE
Democrat Roy Cooper spoke at a business lunch Tuesday at the Palm Restaurant in Charlotte's Southpark area.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper told a business lunch in Charlotte Tuesday that the laws and policies of Gov. Pat McCrory and Republicans are damaging the state's reputation. Cooper says he'll work with citizens and business leaders to repair it.

Cooper, currently the state’s attorney general, made his pitch for the governor's job at the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club at the Palm Restaurant, where McCrory spoke last week.

He said the state has great potential, but is suffering under Republican policies such as House Bill 2, an underfunded education system, and privatization.

For decades when North Carolinians traveled elsewhere, Cooper said, they'd meet people who know the state for its big banks, research universities, mountains and beaches.

"Now you hear: 'What is going on in North Carolina?' You know that that's the question now. And the reason that that's the case, unfortunately, is that we have a governor and legislative leaders who are putting partisan ideology ahead of jobs and schools and the best interests of our state,” he said.

Cooper would fix that by steering the state in a new direction, beginning with pushing for repeal of House Bill 2 - the state law that limits protections for LGBT people. The law has cost the state jobs, sporting events and tourism. 

“We have to put pressure on the governor and on the legislative leadership to call a special session now and to repeal House Bill 2,” he said.

On Monday, the Charlotte City Council rejected a Republican-proposed compromise by declining to repeal its own LGBT protections. Cooper said the Legislature should act even if Charlotte doesn't

There was more on his mind – education, for one. He thinks it should be a higher priority. While teacher salaries have improved to 41st in the U.S., he thinks the state should aim to match the national average. And he criticized how McCrory is describing salaries here.

“You've the governor running commercials telling teachers that they're making $50,000 a year when two-thirds of them are not,” he said.

Cooper continued with a comeback to one of McCrory's main campaign themes - that the state's economy is in a "Carolina Comeback." He noted that unemployment is down and the national economy has improved, but said there’s more to the story.  

“But you go ask everyday working people whether they have seen a Carolina Comeback, most of them will tell you they are working longer and harder than they were before the recession,” he said.

He also criticized McCrory for rejecting federal money to expand Medicaid in North Carolina. He ran off a list of other Republican governors who accepted the federal offer, including New Jersey's Chris Christie and Indiana's Mike Pence - Donald Trump's running mate.

Cooper also took questions from both the audience and reporters. One asked about McCrory campaign ads that accuse him of mismanaging the state Crime Lab, including a big backlog of rape testing kits.  

“What we have done is worked hard, been able to expand the number of scientists, and have eliminated that backlog in all of the local law enforcement agencies across the state,” Cooper said.  

He said he also introduced management and policy changes, including what he said is the nation's only requirement that scientists be certified.

Someone else wanted to know why he declined to defend the state in lawsuits seeking to overturn Republican-passed laws.  

Cooper said he thinks some of the legislation is discriminatory, and "pushes the boundaries of the Constitution." And he said he did represent the state in some cases, such as a suit against state's voting reforms. He stopped when a federal court said that law was intentionally discriminatory.

“You don't have to appeal every case to the U.S. Supreme Court to be doing your job. A good lawyer will tell you when it's time to stop,” he said.

Cooper also put on his attorney general's hat briefly: He said his office is investigating more than 1,000 complaints of gasoline price gouging after a major pipeline leak last week.  He said the state has issued subpoenas to several gas stations and distributors and more are on the way.