Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper is candidate Roy Cooper again, running for re-election after a four-year term marked by power struggles with the General Assembly’s Republican majority.
Early in his term, the state repealed House Bill 2, the notorious law that restricted transgender access to public bathrooms and blocked local nondiscrimination ordinances. He also signed a transportation bond into law, as he promised on the campaign trail.
But some campaign promises simply fell by the wayside. Others broke on the rocks of the legislature’s GOP majority as Cooper went back and forth with lawmakers who had moved to limit his power before he even took office.
Medicaid expansion never had enough momentum to pass, at least in the Senate, despite a multi-year fight that blocked passage of a full state budget.
Teacher pay has increased, but it’s Republicans who drove that bus, and the raises haven’t been as high as Cooper pressed for. Repeated budget vetoes mean the governor vetoed raises too, and Republicans will make sure voters hear about it heading into the Nov. 3 elections.
Not all failures are a governor’s fault – neither are all successes – and not all promises carry equal weight. But these 31 promises, big and small, offer a snapshot answer to an important question: How much of what candidate Roy Cooper promised did Gov. Roy Cooper deliver?
“A lot of what candidate Roy Cooper did was, I think, give us measured promises about how he could push the conversation,” said Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham. “I was incredibly pleased with Roy Cooper the governor, compared to what he told us he could do as Roy Cooper the candidate.”
With Republicans holding a super-majority in the legislature for the first half of his term, Cooper played defense, according to David McLennan, a political science professor and poll director at Meredith College.
The second half was defined by crisis response, McLennan said. Hurricane Florence flooded eastern North Carolina in 2018. And, now, a global pandemic.
Throughout the four years, Cooper’s approval ratings have been the strongest of any political figure in the state, McLennan said, staying at or above the 50 percent mark for most of his term.
“Gov. Roy Cooper’s first term in office should be considered successful, given the circumstances he faced,” McLennan said.
Donald Bryson, president and chief executive of the right-leaning Civitas Institute, said Cooper’s rhetoric after four years “stands remarkably close to where he was as a candidate.”
“Unfortunately for North Carolinians, this has led to unreasonable positions and an ineffective relationship with the General Assembly,” Bryson said. “The unwillingness to work across the aisle has been so ingrained in his term that he has been unable to deliver on campaign promises and substantive change.”
But Reives said the governor shifted the conversation in North Carolina. Four years ago, lawmakers weren’t even talking about expanding Medicaid, he said. Social issues often dominated the debate, and now there’s little reason to bring those bills forward, he said.
“We stopped concentrating on those things,” Reives said. “You started seeing real votes on real investments.”
WRAL News has updated its Promise Tracker repeatedly over the last four years, leaving many of Cooper’s campaign promises “in progress” given his time left in office. That’s not an option in this update, though if Cooper is able to pull any of these off in the waning months of his first term, we will update one more time.
But this is the final update before the 2020 gubernatorial election.