ROCKY MOUNT – On Monday evening North Carolina’s Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that he will challenge Gov. Pat McCrory as a Democrat in the governor’s race in 2016. Cooper grew up in Nashville, N.C., the son of an attorney and a teacher, living on his family farm. He has lived in Raleigh for the last 15 years since his election as attorney general. Prior to serving as attorney general, Cooper, 58, served in the state House from 1987 to 1991 and then in the state Senate from 1991 to 2001.
“My parents taught me the values I still hold today and a love for this great state, ” said Cooper. “Early in our lives he put my brother and me to work on the farm. I cropped tobacco, picked cucumbers, I raised hogs. Later, when I became attorney general, I often joked with my parents that they violated numerous child labor laws.”
Durham lawyer and former state House Rep. Ken Spaulding (D) has also announced a run for governor, and says Cooper’s announcement does not deter him. Cooper has been the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for more than a year and has been raising money by criticizing policies championed by Pat McCrory (R) and the Republican-led legislature for months.
“The crowd that’s in charge in Raleigh is leading us down the wrong path – giving to those at the top while forcing everyone else to pay more and get less,” Cooper told a group of supporters Monday in Rocky Mount. “They slash away at our schools and universities, leaving behind too many people and too many places, but I know N.C. can lead the South again.”
Acting as the state’s top lawyer while raising money attacking the state’s elected leaders has been a tightrope for Cooper. Bob Stephens, McCrory’s general counsel, sharply criticized Cooper for sending a fundraising letter referring to Duke Energy’s coal ash spill at the same time he was supervising lawyers for the state’s environmental agency that was litigating against Duke on coal ash matters.
Monday the North Carolina Republican Party announced the creation of a website, backtothefuturenc.com, saying the website an ad campaign would highlight Cooper’s record and show how Cooper would take the state backward.
“We’ve seen what the future would look like with good ol’boy Roy Cooper as governor, and to find out, all you have to do is hop in the DeLorean, go back in time and look at his 30-year record as a Raleigh insider,” said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. GOP.
Cooper has a long record but is not known by many North Carolinians outside Raleigh political circles. His name identification hit a high when he took over the Duke University lacrosse case prosecution, eventually announcing the players, who had been charged with sexual assault, were “innocent” and dropping the charges against them.
But that was 2007, ages ago in terms of keeping one’s name fresh in the voting public’s mind. More likely to register in the public consciousness is his more recent decision not to retry a white Charlotte police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man whom the officer says was threatening him. Cooper declined to retry the officer following a hung jury in an initial trial. He received statements of disapproval from the state chapter of the NAACP as well as the N.C. GOP and others for the handling of the trial.
Low voter identification and a long public record means lots to shoot at for Cooper’s political opponents as he aims to introduce himself to the many gubernatorial voters who have yet to form an opinion of him.
“I believe that the strong foundation that we’ve all built in this state provides limitless opportunity for generation to come, said Cooper on Monday. “We can make it happen if we can get back to creating a North Carolina where everybody gets a chance to get ahead.”
Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill formally announced his campaign for state Attorney General Monday afternoon. He will face Republican state Sen. Buck Newton of Wilson in the Republican primary in March.