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Editorial: Are pundits writing off Gov.-elect Roy Cooper too soon?

December 14, 2016 GMT

A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Dec.14, 2016; Editorial# 8095<br /> The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

To hear the pronouncements from the pundits, Gov.-elect Roy Cooper is on his way to a term of obscurity and irrelevance. A Democrat overshadowed by a veto-proof GOP dominated legislature, it’s as if it would hardly be worth Cooper’s while to take the oath of office.

Just hours after incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceded the election, here’s what these experts prognosticated:

“Electing Cooper, as a Democratic governor, would have almost no consequences on public policy. The governor will have a state address where he’ll outline an agenda of things he’d like to try to get accomplished. None of that will happen, almost certainly.” -- John Aldrich, Duke University professor of political science.

“He’s not coming in with a mandate, which limits his ability to really flex his muscles.” -- Brandon Lenoir, political science professor at High Point University.

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“If it comes down to the legislature versus the governor, just because of the numbers, the legislature is going to win.” -- David McLennan with Meredith College.

It’s risky to write a political obituary before the birth of an officeholder’s term.

Reports of the demise of Roy Cooper’s term as governor may be a bit premature.

Just as the 2016 election seemed like none we’d seen before, there’s a good chance that the upcoming session of the General Assembly may be one where the old rules and expectations don’t apply.

That’s because the current crop of legislators will be facing a federally court-ordered re-election in less than a year. That’s a fate the General Assembly’s GOP majority inflicted upon itself because of its unconstitutional gerrymandering scheme to insure an indomitable majority.

Nearly every issue will provide Cooper and the GOP leadership in the legislature an opportunity to highlight their differences. With an election just months away, the legislative session will likely take on a campaign atmosphere. Legislation will be opportunities to highlight differences and pitch them to the voters.

The session won’t be about votes inside the House or Senate chambers, but who most effectively appeals to the citizens outside the Legislative Building. It is those voters who will head to the polls next fall to pick their representatives in newly drawn and more competitive state House and Senate districts.

With vocal and visible leadership Cooper can make the special fall legislative elections a referendum on the General Assembly’s leadership. He’ll have opportunities to present clear contrasts to their past obsessions, including:

Perhaps in a bit of anticipation, the legislative leadership already insulated itself from one potentially explosive and divisive debate – over the state budget.

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In past years, the General Assembly would be under the gun to pass a new budget – or a continuing resolution -- by June 30. There probably won’t be a contentious battle this year, thanks to a little-noticed provision added in the fine print of last year’s budget bill. The new law, on page 9, says the current budget simply continues until a new one is passed – no continuing resolution, no debate and no vote.

The upcoming legislative session may end up being less about specific bills passed than the two contrasting visions of North Carolina’s future held by our new governor and our old legislative leadership.

Roy Cooper may be holding more cards than the pundits think. It might not be a good bet to count him out just yet.