KALINER: Cooper’s machine

Gov. Roy Cooper adjust his mask as he listens to Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, speak during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

Gov. Roy Cooper’s pandemic press briefings introduced the Nash County native to many apolitical North Carolinians who hadn’t paid much attention to state government.

Cooper cultivates an “I’m just an ol’ country lawyah’” persona that shrouds a partisan and venal pettiness. He has flourished in the Raleigh political ecosystem for four decades.


Cooper is the standard bearer of the Democratic Political Machine that ruled North Carolina for more than a century post-Civil War — kicked off with the violent 1898 overthrow of Wilmington’s local government led by black and white Republicans.

The Machine’s economic philosophy of “see a penny, spend a penny” resulted in perennial overspending in his Department of Transportation. Cooper repeatedly demands to raid one-time revenue for ongoing expenses, which would lead to the same structural budget deficits that Democrats created pre-2010 — prompting raids on highway funds, withholding tax refunds, and imposing permanent “temporary taxes” to balance broken budgets.

Cooper’s response to Hurricane Matthew was so terrible that South Carolina rebuilt 1,000 houses before Cooper rebuilt one. So, it’s not surprising he couldn’t manage the distribution of unemployment checks after mandating “non-essential” businesses shut down.

Being part of the Democrat Machine means you get a pass on this stuff.

In the 1990s, Cooper was a leader in the N.C. Senate, where he raised taxes on income, sales, businesses, cars and gasoline. He led redistricting efforts and opposed an independent commission to draw maps, even going to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect his racially gerrymandered maps —where he ultimately lost.

It’s perfectly understandable why Gov. Cooper litigated so much to maintain control of the N.C. Board of Elections — ensuring partisans would oversee elections.

Cooper has a penchant for slush funds stuffed with corporate dollars he can dole out to preferred organizations. When Hurricane Floyd flooded hog farms, Smithfield agreed to funnel $2 million through Cooper’s office annually. The state Constitution required the money go to schools. Earlier this year, Democrats on the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein’s ridiculous argument that the settlement was a “gift,” so it didn’t need to go to schools.

It’s reminiscent of Cooper’s attempt to get $57.8 million from Duke Energy as part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.

This pay-to-play culture infected Raleigh for decades. Democrats created a vast patronage system — if you wanted a state job (or even many county and city jobs) you had to be a Democrat and donate to Democrats.

This pay-to-play culture infected Raleigh for decades. Democrats created a vast patronage system — if you wanted a state job (or even many county and city jobs) you had to be a Democrat and donate to Democrats.

The Machine eventually sputtered in the 2000s. Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, Congressman Frank Ballance, and House Speaker Jim Black all went to prison in separate corruption scandals.

Gov. Mike Easley was nearly disbarred and his law license suspended, to say nothing of disgraced former Sen. John Edwards.

Then-Attorney General Cooper defended Easley, because that’s what the Machine does.

The same way Easley’s predecessor, Jim Hunt, was protected when he fired Republicans from state jobs (see: the Christmas Massacre) and stripped power from the first Republican Lt. Gov. in nine decades.

Cooper also claimed he cleared a backlog of untested rape kits. Oddly, the heir apparent, AG Josh Stein, is campaigning now that HE cleared the backlog.

Proof of Cooper’s claim was as elusive as his emails. Over the course of 16 years in the office, Cooper reportedly sent just 14 emails. Total. His staff said he preferred face-to-face communications. Coincidentally it means there’s no paper trail for anything unless we discover he uses a pseudonym, like Easley’s “Nick Danger.”

In 2016, Cooper used the HB2 “bathroom bill” to raise millions from out-of-state donors and celebrated the negative national attention from boycotts and cancellations.

When Republicans offered a “fix,” Cooper told Democrats to reject it.

After he squeaked out a 10,000-vote victory over Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016, Cooper cut a worse deal, prompting LGBT advocates to accuse him of selling them out.

Like environmentalists enraged over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline deal, and teachers who got no pay raise because of his vetoes, the LGBT community learned Cooper will sacrifice your needs to further his personal political ambition.

Business owners are learning the same lesson — suffering Cooper’s arbitrary lockdowns and Dimmer Switch © phased re-openings, sold with incantations of “Science and Data” ™ while Cooper dodges questions from the favored reporters his team allows on media teleconferences.

The way Cooper tightly controls the messaging and ignores the cries of the people he’s hurting is obvious in its abusiveness.

But he can be forgiven.

After all, he has a machine to lead.