Democratic candidates for governor spar over voting law at forum

Democratic candidates for governor spar over voting law at forum
February 04
00:00 2016
Photo provided by Cash Michaels
Attorney General Roy Cooper, left, and Democratic rival Ken Spaulding engage at a forum on Friday, Jan. 29, in Raleigh


Associated Press

RALEIGH — Attorney General Roy Cooper’s rival for the Democratic nomination for North Carolina governor said Friday night it’s wrong for Cooper to defend in court a wide-ranging election overhaul law approved by Republicans that lawsuits claim discriminates against minority voters.

Ken Spaulding of Durham, meeting face-to-face with Cooper for questions in their campaign leading up to the March 15 primary, has hammered the four-term attorney general because his office is representing the state in elections litigation and said Cooper could have refused. A federal trial on a portion of the law requiring photo identification to vote starting with this election continued Friday in Winston-Salem. It ended Monday.

The state NAACP, U.S. Justice Department and others sued to overturn the law. A lawyer from Cooper’s office sits at the defense table helping represent the state.

“My opponent sitting with me today, he’s been in court with the Republicans fighting on behalf of them and against the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the people of North Carolina on a constitutional issue that he does not have to represent the state on,” Spaulding told more than 150 people in attendance.

Cooper defended himself during the forum, organized by the African-American and Hispanic caucuses within the state Democratic Party. He said it’s his duty as attorney general to defend the state’s laws in court. Cooper says he’s personally opposed to the law and urged Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013 to veto it.

The 2013 election law already reduced the number of early voting days from 17 to 10 and has eliminated same-day registration during the early voting period.

“One of the reasons I’m running for governor is I am sick and tired of the laws that are being passed by this governor and this General Assembly,” Cooper said. “As governor, I can work toward public policy to make sure we do change these things.”

Spaulding said Cooper should have refused to represent the state on constitutional grounds. Cooper did decline in 2014 to defend the state’s constitutional amendment barring gay marriage once a federal appeals court struck down a similar amendment in Virginia.

Cooper appears to be a favorite in the gubernatorial primary over Spaulding, a former legislator and state Board of Transportation member. While Spaulding reported raising $22,000 in the second half of 2015, Cooper’s campaign took in $2.9 million. But Spaulding, also an attorney who helped create large Durham commercial development projects, believes he can win with strong support from fellow black voters, who have been known to cast one-third of the Democratic primary vote or more. He’s labeled Cooper an establishment candidate.

The winner of the primary is likely to take on McCrory, who faces two challengers in the GOP primary, including former state Rep. Robert Brawley.

Spaulding also criticized Cooper for refusing last year to seek a retrial in the case of a Charlotte police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed suspect.

The first trial ended in a deadlocked jury. Cooper said last August that prosecutors agreed a retrial would “not yield a different result.”

When offered a chance by a forum moderator to respond to Spaulding’s comments, Cooper declined.

The Democratic Party’s U.S. Senate candidates also took questions later Friday. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh, Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey, Durham businessman Kevin Griffin and Ernest Reeves of Greenville are running for the nomination. They all want to replace Republican incumbent Richard Burr.

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