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Governor Talks Tough To Republican Leaders

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper
Jeff Tiberii
A file photo of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. Cooper discussed his battles with the legislature during a press conference with reporters on Feb. 7, 2017.

Just a month into his first term as governor, Democrat Roy Cooper already sounds a little exasperated when talking about the legislature’s Republican leadership.

After meeting with the Council of State on Tuesday morning, Cooper addressed reporters. He started by holding up a copy of the News & Observer and pointing to a headline about House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill. The article was about a sports association with ties to the NCAA and the ACC that warned North Carolina would be shut out of hosting lucrative collegiate sports games and tournaments for the next six years if lawmakers did not repeal the controversial law immediately.

HB2 requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. The bill’s passage last year led to a boycott of the state by performers such as Bruce Springsteen, sports leagues, and businesses such as PayPal.

“I want the NCAA and the ACC to come back. The reason they won’t is because House Bill 2 is still on the books. The reason that a number of companies have said they are not going to expand here, they’re not going to come here is because House Bill 2 is still on the books. It has to be removed,” the governor said.

And all it would take, the governor added, would be a straight up-or-down vote on the controversial law.

“There are enough votes. There are enough Republicans, even though they don’t represent a majority of their caucuses, when you combine their votes with the Democrats on the floor then you get complete repeal.”

The problem for Cooper, Democratic legislators and the few Republicans who openly oppose HB2, is that, for now, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore are unwilling to allow a clean vote on the controversial law.

In December the Republican leadership called the General Assembly into special session to take a crack at repealing HB2. However, the vote to repeal failed because of attached legislation. In addition to repeal, Republicans put forth a vote on a related moratorium that would have prevented local governments from passing ordinances extending protections to LGBT people. Charlotte’s city council passed just such an ordinance that led to the General Assembly’s passage of HB2. Democrats voted no in December because of the moratorium. Senator Berger continues to say repeal of HB2 will require compromise.

The governor and Republican lawmakers are also in a standoff over Senate confirmation of his cabinet appointees. Late last year, just before Governor Cooper took office and replaced Republican Pat McCrory, the Republican-led legislature passed House Bill 17, which required gubernatorial cabinet picks to undergo senate confirmation hearings.

The governor challenged the law in court as unconstitutional and his lawsuit is still pending.

“We really don’t need to go through six weeks of partisan games on confirmation hearings when we have important issues like repeal of House Bill 2, hurricane relief, economic development, raising teacher pay," Cooper said. "We don’t need to take all that amount of time.”

Cooper said he doesn’t know what the rush is, especially since a hearing on his lawsuit is scheduled for March.

“Particularly when their own law says that the governor doesn’t have to have the names to the president of the senate until May 15," he said. "This is why we didn’t think we had a problem because we were going to follow the law but we knew that he court was going to hearing this before then and believed that we would have a decision.”

Meanwhile, Cooper said he has asked his cabinet appointees to reach out to legislative leaders to meet with them informally to discuss their planning priorities.

And, as if there were not enough for the governor and the legislature to battle over, Cooper told the Council of State he would be submitting his budget plan to the General Assembly in the next few weeks.

Rusty Jacobs is a politics reporter for WUNC.
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