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There was a time in March when it felt like we were all united in attacking COVID-19, but that honeymoon was shortlived. By the end of April, the virus had become partisan.
If you listen to some voices, you would believe the coronavirus and its disastrous repercussions are the fault of one man: Roy Cooper. That’s the narrative increasingly coming from Republicans and those on the right. They ask, “Why does one man have so much power to make decisions that affect us all?” Or, “Why won’t he listen to the legislature when they dictate the opening of bars, gyms, bowling alleys and nightclubs?”
They generally conclude with, “Doesn’t he know he has wrecked the economy of our state, that there are more than a million people out of work?” Those and other questions will only be intensified after the governor’s announcement keeping Phase 2 restrictions in force.
Democrats are equally emphatic things would not have gotten so bad had President Trump not initially refused to recognize the pandemic, been willing to develop a coherent and consistent national strategy and accepted any accountability.
Here’s my spin: The coronavirus doesn’t care to which political party you belong, where you live or anything else. While it might be easy to place blame on a governor or even the president, let’s put the blame where it belongs — on the virus.
The biggest criticism of Gov. Cooper centers around his singular power in making decisions. People forget we elected him to be governor, the chief executive officer of our state. Our statutes grant the executive extraordinary powers during times of emergency.
Gov. Cooper could blunt some of the criticisms if he would tell us who he consults, give their names and say how often he does so. I could perhaps agree that the governor should consult with and seek consensus from the Council of State with two reservations. First, I have watched committees deliberate decisions and the process does not lend itself to timely and decisive action in times of crisis. At least now we have one person to hold accountable.
Further, I could be more supportive if there was some confidence those statewide elected officials would give nonpartisan advice. This Council of State already proved it wouldn’t do so when Republican members signed a petition attempting to force Cooper to consult with them. No Democrats signed that petition.
Yes, there is a statute that says the governor should get concurrence from the Council of State in some instances. However, it’s so vague and poorly written that a former Supreme Court justice said a case could be made for requiring concurrence, but could just as equally support the position the governor didn’t have to do so.
The legislature is attempting to change that statute but would do well to consider setting a precedent that lawmakers may someday regret. One day there will be another Republican governor perhaps forced to face an unfriendly Democratic majority in the Council of State.
The virus doesn’t care about any of this, but we should. I hope you agree we are weary of the partisan bickering at a time when we should be uniting to fight this virus. The health of our people and our economy us more important that partisan infighting. We are better than this.
Tom Campbell is a former assistant North Carolina state treasurer and is creator/host of “N.C. Spin,” a weekly statewide television discussion that airs on the UNC-TV main channel at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and 12:30 p.m. Sundays and the UNC North Carolina Channel at 10 p.m. Fridays, 4 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. Sundays. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.