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News & Record columnist: Gov. Cooper ready to play hardball

In her latest column,  Susan Ladd of the News & Record in Greensboro took a look at Gov. Roy Cooper’s rough entry into office this year and how the Democrat intends to govern in the face of a veto-proof GOP majority.

From the column:

It’s clear that playing nice with the GOP majority on highly divisive issues is no longer Cooper’s game plan.

Playing nice with bullies most often leads to increased abuse, as Cooper discovered in December, when he brokered a special session repeal of HB 2. Once in session, Berger reneged on the deal and then blamed Cooper.

The GOP leadership also called a special session last month to strip Cooper of as much power as possible before he assumed office, reducing his appointments to a fraction of what was granted to McCrory; requiring Senate confirmation of his Cabinet appointments; revamping the State Board of Elections; and shifting power away from the State Board of Education to the newly elected (Republican) superintendent of public instruction.

Cooper promised to see his adversaries in court, noting the General Assembly’s poor track record in sustaining unconstitutional laws. He already has filed suit against the law that merged the state elections board with the State Ethics Commission and split appointments evenly between Democrats and Republicans. On Thursday, a three-judge panel appointed by the N.C. Supreme Court blocked the revamp of the state elections board until Cooper’s lawsuit is resolved.

The State Board of Education has filed a lawsuit to stop the transfer of powers to the superintendent. That case also has been assigned to a three-judge panel.

Cooper is daring the legislature to sue him by openly violating a 2013 state law that prohibits the governor from acting on his own to approve Medicaid expansion. Cooper, an attorney and former state attorney general, said he believes the law infringes on the governor’s executive power to negotiate the waiver request with the federal Centers of Medicaid and Medicare Services.

So he’s simply going to do it by filing an amendment to the Medicaid reform waiver request submitted in June by McCrory.

Ladd points out that Cooper seems to have public support on the points over which he’s taking on the GOP majority.

In taking on the legislature, Cooper has chosen issues that have widespread public support.

More than half of respondents in a 2015 High Point University Poll favored expanding Medicaid to cover people caught in the gap between the health exchanges offered under the ACA and existing Medicaid coverage. A survey from left-leaning Public Policy Polling found support at 72 percent.

The unpopularity of HB 2 was certainly one of the reasons for McCrory’s defeat. And a majority of North Carolinians have said they believe teacher pay and overall school funding needs to increase, according to a poll conducted last year by High Point University.

Medicaid expansion, along with school funding and HB 2, consistently have been the focus of Moral Monday marches in Raleigh and around the state. Increasingly frustrated with inaction on these issues, the public likely will respond to Cooper’s moves with a major show of support.

Bringing attention to these issues from the outset of his tenure may also rally voters to provide Cooper with more like-minded legislators in the 2017 special election, if the court-ordered redistricting actually produces districts in which Democrats have a statistical chance of winning.

Whether or not his strategy is successful, Cooper has staked himself out as tough, decisive leader who is ready to play hardball.

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