WHATLEY: During COVID-19, Gov. Cooper made a bad situation worse

roy cooper
Photo courtesy NCDHHS

A few weeks ago, Gov. Cooper held his first in-person press conference since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to announce schools will be resuming in-person instruction. Democrats have lauded Cooper’s decision as “leadership.” 

In reality, what happened under Cooper’s direction was a prolonged, preventable series of bad decisions that only increased hardship for North Carolinians with each mandate he single-handedly enacted. What began as a public health crisis turned into a public health, economic and education crisis.

In March of last year, Cooper announced all public schools in North Carolina would shift to a purely remote schedule for a two-week minimum. Little did we know, Cooper’s order to keep schools closed would drag on for a year. During that time, 10,000 kids became unaccounted for in North Carolina. Human trafficking increased by 40%. Mental health issues soared among children, youth suicide rates surpassed COVID-19 deaths by ten-fold, and students experienced devastating learning loss. Many families, especially single-parent households, were not able to work without the stability and support offered by the public school system. 

Here is the tragedy: This never had to happen.

Unlike Gov. Cooper, Republican governors in other states put their students and citizens first from the very beginning. When Gov. Ron DeSantis opened schools last August, because “the data and evidence were overwhelmingly clear,” that was real leadership. When Gov. Abbott reopened Texas businesses to 100% operation, that was real leadership. When Gov. Kristi Noem refused to close a single church during the pandemic, that was real leadership. 

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Cooper’s governorship was defined by inaction and heavy-handed mandates that crippled our state. When one of Cooper’s most loyal donors, the North Carolina Association of Educators, demanded to keep schools closed, he obeyed. As Cooper’s Democrat School Board pushed off reopening schools, they busied themselves with passing a radical leftist social studies curriculum, despite 28,000 North Carolinians speaking out against it. After Republicans in the state legislature fought tooth and nail to reopen schools, and succeeded in sending a bipartisan bill to Cooper’s desk, he waited until the last possible day to veto it.  

Simply put, Gov. Cooper failed the students and families of North Carolina. Even when the top universities in our state released research that clearly backed reopening schools, Cooper sided with the teachers’ unions and kept schools closed. 

Rest assured, Republicans are fighting harder than ever to restore freedom and fairness in North Carolina. Right now, the GOP in the state legislature is advancing legislation to reign in Cooper’s executive powers in the Emergency Powers Act. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson just established a task force for North Carolinians to report incidents of political indoctrination in the classroom. The RNC and NCGOP are mobilizing to protect election integrity in North Carolina, because we cannot afford to let such blatant Democrat overreach ever happen again. As a party, we have never been so clear-sighted on the need to elect Republican leaders.   

If North Carolina takes away one thing from the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be this: Gov. Cooper did not create a health crisis, but he did create an economic and education crisis that only made matters worse. He chose allegiance to the Democrat Party over North Carolinians’ freedom to earn a living and receive an education. This has no place in the freest country in the world, and certainly no place in the Tar Heel State. Moving forward, we expect Cooper to put politics aside and work with Republican legislators, because if there is one cause for both parties to rally behind, it is the students of North Carolina.

Michael Whatley is chairman of the North Carolina GOP.