After hurricanes and legislative battles, Cooper glad to put 2018 behind him

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— Gov. Roy Cooper is looking forward to a new year.

For Cooper, 2018 was marked by natural disasters, including two major hurricanes, incessant battles with a Republican-controlled legislature and high-profile failures on the economic development front.

“I think it has been a year of opportunity mixed with hardship for North Carolina,” he said Friday in a year-end interview with WRAL News. “We’ve been rocked by two hurricanes, and a lot of people are hurting,”

The recovery effort will continue through much, if not all, of 2019. Already, $1.6 billion in aid has been earmarked for North Carolina hurricane victims, and state and federal officials say much more will be needed, especially after Hurricane Florence caused an estimated $17 billion in damage.

“As we rebuild, we have to do it stronger and smarter because these storms are going to keep coming,” the governor said. “We have to work on mitigation, which means more buyouts of properties where you know [flooding is] going to happen again.”

The new year also will bring a new legislature, after Democrats ended six years of veto-proof GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate.

“They have written budgets the way they’ve wanted to, and I’ve vetoed the last two budgets because I didn’t think they did enough for education, didn’t do enough for health care, didn’t do enough for tax breaks for everyday people,” Cooper said. “They were able to override them. That won’t happen this time because there is more balance in the House and the Senate.”

The governor said he looks forward to engaging in negotiations with Republican legislative leaders on policy and spending priorities and reaching good compromises.

“I’m looking forward to trying to achieve consensus. I don’t think compromise is a dirty word when you’re trying to get something done for the people of this state,” he said.

Expanding the Medicaid program is among the issues where he hopes to finally break through a legislative barrier. Doing so, he argues, would provide health care for tens of thousands of North Carolina residents and would bring federal money into the state.

“Republican governors in other states that have done this have said it’s a positive decision. It’s helped them attack the opioid crisis. It’s gotten more people covered,” he said. “We need to do this. I’m willing to work with [lawmakers] on how we do it, what we call it, but we need to do this and leverage those federal dollars.”

Rather than dwell on the decisions by Amazon, Apple and the Army to bypass North Carolina for major economic development projects, Cooper prefers to reflect on the state’s wins in recent months, including decisions by Honeywell and Advance Auto Parts to move their corporate headquarters to Charlotte and Raleigh, respectively.

Yet, he notes continued investment in education is needed as technology changes the types of jobs that will be available in the future.

“Public education may be the most important issue facing our state and our country right now because of the rapidly changing job market,” he said. “We have to make sure our workforce is educated, and that starts with a quality teacher in every classroom and a quality principal in every school.”