WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Roy Cooper was not a novice politician when he took the oath of office to become the 75th Governor of North Carolina. Gov. Cooper had spent time as a legislator and served four terms at the state’s attorney general before assuming his current office on January 1, 2017. Even with that political experience, Gov. Cooper admits to being frustrated at times with the process almost two years into his term.
"Things that you would think could get done for common sense often get blocked because of politics,” he said during an interview in the Governor’s Mansion. “That's been frustrating."
Gov. Cooper says he’s learned a lot about the fighting spirit of the people who live in North Carolina. He’s watched as residents weathered two of the most devastating hurricanes in the state’s history, Matthew in 2017 and Florence in 2018. The Cooper Administration took a lot of criticism after Hurricane Matthew, for failing to get federal grant funding to victims in a timely fashion. But Gov. Cooper says some of his toughest days on the job came a year later, after he visited areas Florence hit hardest after the storm made landfall in September.
“Meeting person after person whose life was so devastated,” he remembers. “To hear the stories of people not having a place to go because their house was underwater, a small business that just doesn’t have any idea of how they’re going to get started again, a church that has water up to the roof, talking with the minister and congregants wondering what’s going to happen to them, seeing a farmer that’s already leveraged to the hilt standing out in a field of cotton that is just absolutely destroyed. Coming home at the end of the night with all of the stories that I heard, sitting on the edge of the bed and thinking ‘how are we going to make sure that we get help to these people? How are we going to coordinate it?”
Gov. Cooper has faced a Republican-led super-majority in the General Assembly for his first two years. He’s gone to court against the GOP leadership over several issues, including changes they made to the State Board of Elections, the governor’s authority to appoint members to several statewide boards and commissions, and proposed amendments to the state constitution. A change coming in 2019 could make his walks along Jones Street more enjoyable. Voters sent enough Democrats to Raleigh to eliminate the GOP’s veto-proof advantage for the next General Assembly session. Republican lawmakers used their strength to override 21 of Gov. Cooper’s 26 vetoes.
“What I hope is that I don’t have to veto as many because there will be more collaboration on the front end,” Gov. Cooper said. “They know I can veto and have that veto sustained. I think the people have sent us a strong message in November that they want balance, they want us to talk to each other. They want us to try to achieve consensus. We’ve been able to do that some in a limited way. We need to do more of it.”
Gov. Cooper admits the job is physically demanding, but he works to keep up an exercise regimen that includes rowing and daily walks with the family dog. You get the sense talking to him that the exercise is as much for the mental aspect of the job as much as the physical one.
Asked whether he had decided to run for re-election in 2020, Gov. Cooper said it’s too early for any official announcements. But it sounds like he would like to stick around to serve the state after this first term ends.
“I do think that we’re making progress with me as governor of this state,” he said as we closed the interview. “I look forward to continuing to do that for the next couple of years.”
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