Last week in Raleigh

The Capital Press Association
By Dan Boylan | Jan 08, 2017

Inside the 1840 Capitol building just minutes after midnight on Sunday morning Jan. 1 -- Roy Cooper's close family, friends and colleagues watched him take the oath of office to become North Carolina's 75th governor.

"I'm aware of the solemn responsibility that I've been given and the duty that I have to uphold the Constitution," Cooper said shortly after state Chief Justice Mark Martin completed the 15-minute swearing-in ceremony.

A 30-year veteran of state politics -- 14 in the General Assembly and 16 as attorney general -- Cooper's traditional public inauguration, downtown parade and nighttime ball weren't scheduled to occur for almost another week. But Cooper had vowed to start early. He wanted to move the state forward despite the current atmosphere of bitter partisan politics.

In early November on election night he'd claimed victory. But nearly a month of disputes and acrimony passed before one-term Republican Gov. Pat McCrory finally conceded. The Republic-led General Assembly then called a highly unusual special session to strip Cooper of significant powers before he took office.

With the midnight swearing-in behind him, Cooper greeted Monday by naming four state government veterans to key positions in his administration, including former state budget director Charlie Perusse. Wednesday saw economists, bankers, chiefs of business and policy-makers gather in Raleigh at the 15th annual Economic Forecast Forum to debate the state's economic big picture.

Cooper used the occasion to say North Carolina needed to spend more on education, repeal the House Bill 2 "Bathroom Bill" and restore the state's reputation as diverse, welcoming and inclusive.

Then Cooper swung his first truly fast punch at the Republican-dominated state legislature. He planned to also immediately expand Medicaid through an executive action, he told the forum.

As outlined in the Affordable Care Act, that would mean hundreds of thousands more people could sign up for government health insurance, provided federal officials approved Cooper's request.

Republican lawmakers instantly counter punched. "Just days into his term as governor, Roy Cooper already intends to violate his oath of office with a brazenly illegal attempt to force a massive, budget-busting Obamacare expansion on North Carolina taxpayers," Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, said later that day.

Berger said Congress and federal Medicaid officials would soon receive a letter from North Carolina asking them to deny Cooper's request.

This all happened before sunset on Wednesday.

The stormy words became news of stormy weather by Thursday when predictions of fierce weekend snow forced Cooper to cancel his outdoor inauguration festivities. He and members of the Council of State instead would take oaths of office Friday at the governor’s mansion, although for some these were ceremonial because they'd already been sworn-in similar to Cooper.

Cooper's inaugural address on TV was slated for 10:30 a.m. Saturday. That night's Inaugural Ball was also scheduled to carry on despite snowfall.

In the background, Cooper and Republican lawmakers continued fighting in the state courts. At issue are the laws passed during the December special session aimed at curbing his powers. Thus far a state Superior Court judge has temporarily blocked a new law that would scale back Cooper's control over statewide and county election boards. Cooper's attorney has said more legal wrangling is on the horizon.


When the first week of the year was finally over state political reporters took a deep breath. At least they recalled noticing one thing that appeared peaceful.


During a Cooper press conference at the governor's mansion they saw outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory's new official portrait in the mansion entrance hall. It hung alongside other portraits of former governors and showed McCrory standing before the dome of the 1840 Capitol building and smiling.



Legislative Elections: Federal judges this week denied a request by state lawmakers to postpone an earlier order requiring new state House and state Senate districts be drawn by March 15 with an unusual off-year election in altered districts to be held in November. The judges ruled last August that lawmakers had relied too heavily on race when they drew 28 legislative districts in 2011. Republican lawmakers have also appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. North Carolina has 120 state House districts and 50 state Senate districts and roughly one-sixth were found unconstitutional. It is likely all 170 districts will be involved in the special 2017 election. Reports also emerged this week that even though the new districts haven't been drawn, the N.C. Democratic Party is already recruiting candidates.


Crime Stats: North Carolina's overall crime rate declined in 2015, driven down by drops in property crimes such as burglary and larceny. But vviolent crime rose for the year after a decade of improvement, propelled by increases in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Durham. Last tear there were 559 homicides, according to a report released by the State Bureau of Investigation. The statewide numbers mirror a national trend.

Charter Surge: While North Carolina's traditional public schools lost students last year, charter school enrollment has more than doubled since the state lifted a 100-school cap in 2011. State tallies show 168 charter schools had 91,815 students in the first month of this school year, compared with 45,215 in 100 schools five years earlier. "Basically the growth in the state is being absorbed by charter schools and home schooling," said Alexis Schauss, the state's director of school business. Charter schools, which are independent public schools that report to nonprofit boards, still account for only 6 percent of North Carolina's 1.5 million K-12 students. There is increasing enthusiasm for offering families alternatives to traditional public schools but North Carolina officials continue to wrestle with how best to close charter schools that get into trouble.

Quote of the Week: "I cannot wait to get started." North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper told the Associated Press moments after taking his oath of office just after midnight on Jan. 1.

Number of the Week: $16,500: A reward for the person who shot and killed a rare red wolf in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge late last month is now $16,500 thanks to multiple groups pitching into the cause. Outrage has been expressed that the rare species was shot at a national wildlife refuge.