The Tate of the Union: What does Roy Cooper’s victory mean for North Carolina?

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After a contentious gubernatorial race that resulted in a month-long stalemate between the two candidates, Governor Pat McCrory finally conceded his bid for re-election last week, confirming Democratic candidate Roy Cooper’s claim to victory in North Carolina. On election night, Nov. 8, Cooper declared his campaign victorious despite McCrory’s claims otherwise, giving Democrats a small flicker of hope in a sea of disappointment.

Democrats may have successfully elected Cooper into office, but as McCrory’s extensive calls for recounts demonstrated, Cooper’s margin of victory was slim. Unfortunately, the governor-elect has no clear mandate from the residents of North Carolina, which may contribute to the inevitable difficulties Cooper will face once he takes office.

While Democrats were able to put their party into the governor’s mansion, they were unable to combat the GOP-dominated North Carolina General Assembly. In fact, Republican “supermajorities” still remain in the state legislature, which means that conservatives will be able to override Cooper’s vetoes and shoot down many of the governor’s proposals. It still remains to be seen how Republican leadership in the General Assembly will address House Bill 2 now that its executive champion has been dethroned, but it is likely that the GOP’s preeminence in state legislature will impede Cooper’s efforts to repeal the legislation widely considered to be discriminatory.

Even though North Carolina will soon have a Democratic leader in the state’s executive branch, it cannot be forgotten that the people of North Carolina cast their votes for Republican candidate Donald Trump over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by a margin of nearly 175 thousand votes in the nation’s presidential election. Even if Cooper can slog through a Republican state legislature to repeal some of McCrory’s policies, North Carolina’s political image will remain one of conservatism. In an era of ultra-political correctness in which many businesses and associations are hesitant to associate with policies that are unpopular with their consumers and members, the damage done to North Carolina’s image by H.B. 2 may be irreparable.

Associations like the NCAA and companies like PayPal no longer tolerate association with legislation that is potentially pernicious to their brand, so lawmakers will need to beg for their return to the state even after H.B. 2 has been dismantled.

For many activists like president of The Human Rights Campaign Chad Griffin, Cooper’s victory in the gubernatorial race was also seen as a victory in a campaign against intolerance.

“Pat McCrory’s reign of discrimination is finally over,” said Griffin in a statement last week. “McCrory’s stubborn and reckless support of H.B. 2 cost him this election, and his defeat sends a powerful warning to lawmakers across the country that targeting L.G.B.T.Q. people will not be tolerated.”

However, Cooper’s incredibly thin margin of victory tells a different story. Since Cooper won by a mere 10,000 votes, his victory is not indicative of the will of many North Carolinians. There is still much work to be done in combating the attitude of intolerance that continues to plague much of the south, and activists cannot slow their ideological crusades once Cooper takes office.

Moments after McCrory conceded his releection bid, Cooper released a written statement urging the people of North Carolina to come together.

“While this was a divisive election season, I know still that there is more that unites us than divides us,” wrote Cooper. The governor-elect then laid out his plans for his term in office, upholding the notions that many voters had already formulated about his governorship.

“Together, we can make North Carolina the shining beacon in the south by investing in our schools, supporting working families and building a state that works for everyone.”

In the wake of one of the most divisive elections in our nation’s history, Cooper’s calls for unity should not fall on deaf ears. Those seeking meaningful change must capitalize on this victory, yet they must do so without contributing to the widening partisan divide.

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