There are few who don’t believe that Attorney General Roy Cooper has begun to pave his road to the Governor’s Mansion.
He has become quite vocal in recent months, as Republicans in the General Assembly and their de facto leader, Gov. Pat McCrory, have gone from bad to worse. Cooper publicly lamented the trampling of what he considers essential rights. In a July letter to the governor, Cooper urged him to veto the state’s voter identification law, calling it regressive and burdensome, among other adjectives.
“I write to state my strong opposition to the election reforms contained in House Bill 589 and ask that you veto this regressive legislation,” Cooper wrote. “For years, North Carolina has taken steps that encourage people to vote while maintaining the integrity of the system … the legislation will make it harder for North Carolinians to vote.”
Last week, he laid out his other gripes with the state’s GOP “leaders” in the bluntly-titled Huffington Post op/ed, “North Carolina: Threatening Fifty Years of Progress in Ten Months.”
“This is not the North Carolina that any of us recognize. The harrowing economic times we live in require steadiness, innovative thought and a redoubling of commitment to bedrock principles like public education that have brought our state this far, not more pain inflicted on the middle class and those struggling to stay in it,” Cooper wrote in a piece that also criticizes Republicans for turning down federal Medicaid expansion funds that could insure half-a-million more poor North Carolinians.
Recriminations have come swiftly from the state and national GOP machine that isn’t thrilled with the possibility of Cooper becoming a sort of shadow governor for the next three years before officially snatching the mansion’s keys from McCrory’s hands in 2016.
McCrory has opted to hire – at a rate of nearly $400 an hour – a conservative South Carolina-based law firm to defend the state in a lawsuit challenging the voter ID law that was recently filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. The AG would typically defend the state, but a spokesperson for the governor has expressed doubt that Cooper can aggressively defend a law that he personally objects to.
Cooper has said his office is prepared to defend the law, despite his personal stance. He made a similar declaration last week when he expressed his personal support for same-sex marriage, while maintaining that professionally, as AG, he has to abide by the controversial state ban on such unions passed by voters last year.
Yeah, we know – Cooper is in an odd place. We can understand why some would have pause with him defending laws he loathes. But should they doubt that he would do the job he was elected to do? We say no.
Cooper is essentially the king prosecutor of the state’s criminal justice system. With all due respect, he and his kind have long successfully prosecuted cases that they knew had no validity, throwing the book at defendants they knew no more committed the crime than the Man in the Moon. Prisons and jails are crammed with folks who can attest to that.
So what’s behind Cooper’s strategy? Showing his hand in a race that is still three years away is unusual. McCrory is no political titan; is a years-long head start necessary?
Perhaps Cooper has some guilt. When scandal – both real and made up – left the governorship open (after Bev Perdue announced she would not seek a second term), Democrats believed that Cooper was the only person who could spare the state from complete GOP domination.
Cooper declined to enter the gubernatorial contest and, instead, vied for a fourth term as AG – cake-walking to victory with no opposition in the primary or general election. If Cooper feels even slightly personally responsible for the melancholic state of the State, he will continue to shout his objections from the highest rooftop and will mount a gubernatorial campaign the likes of which we have never seen.