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NC Governor's Vetoes May Be Remembered Most In '19

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper

RALEIGH — Many of North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s lasting achievements in 2019 stem from keeping Republican policies from ever getting implemented.

During a year-end interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Cooper cited successes in recruiting companies and jobs to the state, reducing the number of opioid deaths and moving the state toward cleaner energy during the third year of his term.

“There’s still a lot more to do, but I’m pleased with the progress that we made,” Cooper said at the Executive Mansion. He’s already filed to run for reelection in 2020.

But this year will be best remembered politically by the fact that none of his 14 vetoes against legislation by the GOP-controlled legislature were overridden. One vetoed bill would have required sheriffs to cooperate with federal agents looking for immigrants believed to be in the U.S. unlawfully. Another would have created a new crime against doctors who fail to care for an infant delivered during an unsuccessful abortion. He called the sheriff bill a political stunt and the abortion measure unnecessary interference between women and physicians.

Republicans hold majorities in the House and Senate but lack enough seats to override Cooper’s veto on their own, like they could during Cooper’s first two years as governor. Democrats ended the veto-proof control with legislative gains in 2018.

“I am hopeful for this state as we go into next year, because they have elected a more balanced legislature,” he said. “They elected a new governor (Cooper in 2016). And we have made progress. We just need to do more.”

His veto of the GOP’s two-year state budget in June led to a budget impasse between him and Republican leaders that has now gone on for six months. He opposed the measure because it contained more corporate tax cuts, lacked Medicaid expansion and robust pay raises for teachers and didn’t rely on bonds for school construction.

“So I think that having stopped this budget so far is an accomplishment,” Cooper said.

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and GOP Senate leader Phil Berger blamed Cooper for derailing the two-year budget because of his insistence of putting Medicaid expansion on the negotiating table. Cooper said there was no such ultimatum and offered compromises while Republicans failed to do so.

Republicans instead sent Cooper portions of their proposed budget in several separate pieces of legislation in the summer and fall. Cooper signed nearly all of them.

Berger suggested in a statement last week that his chamber may consider a budget veto override vote when the General Assembly reconvenes next month. Only one Democrat would have to join all Senate Republicans to complete the override. The House agreed to override the budget veto in September in a partisan maelstrom when most Democrats were absent.

“It is entirely up to Senate Democrats whether we enact a new budget and provide teachers with pay raises or if we continue with the existing budget through 2020,” Berger said last week.

Cooper’s pitch this fall to negotiate teacher raises separate from a broader budget was rebuffed by GOP leaders, who said they offered a standalone pay package in October that Cooper vetoed. But Cooper wants double the average pay for teachers than Republicans have offered.

“We are going to keep working to make sure that we’re sending the message that our educators need better pay,” he said Wednesday.

Cooper said he and Republicans have worked together on hurricane relief funding, modernizing the state’s sexual assault laws and creating economic development projects. Republicans contend that their tax and regulatory reductions this decade — and not Cooper — have led to the state’s strong economy and flush tax coffers.