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Road of cooperation takes a partisan turn

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For a while, it appeared North Carolina’s leaders were heading down the road of bipartisan cooperation, something we can all applaud. But in recent days, that journey has taken a partisan turn.

Let’s begin with the #ReopenNC protests. Look at the demonstrators’ signs and listen to their rhetoric. There is no mistaking the partisan tone; some suggest the group is funded and prompted by right-leaning groups. 

There’s Senate Bill 712, the “N.C. Freedom of Work Act,” backed by Republican conservatives in the state Senate. It essentially tells businesses and others that they can ignore Gov. Roy Cooper’s emergency directives without fear of fines or legal action. If passed into law, this bill would generate lawsuits over constitutional issues that would hang up the courts (even if the courts were operating) long after these businesses would likely be authorized to reopen. 

There were also protests arising from the order that indoor worship services should only contain 10 people and no more than 50 at a funeral. A lot of the pushback came from the conservative Christian Action League and largely conservative ministers. Many other denominations and ministers say they don’t want to put their congregants at risk. 

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen says shopping in a store is a much lower-risk activity than sitting still for a period of time near someone in a church pew. We are taking small steps to see how much each step incrementally increases the spread of the virus, the need for hospital beds and fatalities.

A letter signed by Republican members of the Council of State this week asked the governor to call an emergency Council of State meeting to discuss COVID-19. The panel just met May 5, but the inference is that Republican Council of State members want to insert themselves in the decision-making process. No Democrats on the Council of State had signed the letter, a clear indication of its partisanship.

I had a former Supreme Court justice review N.C. General Statute 166A-19.30 (a) and (b) dealing with “Additional powers of the governor during state of emergency.” As so often is the situation, a case could be made that the governor needs to concur with the Council of State in some instances, but just as strong a case that the governor doesn’t have to. Nobody should want to test that in court right now.

Here’s my spin: A reasonable person could conclude that partisanship is spreading almost as fast as the coronavirus, just as we are trying to work our way out of the worst health care crisis most of us have ever experienced. Gov. Cooper is under extreme pressure and is making the best decisions from the data he sees. 

We want a governor who will take steps to bring others, including the Council of State, on board, and perhaps Cooper could do more, but we also recognize that the ultimate decision, as chief executive officer of our state, is his to make. 

We don’t have to agree with all of them, but as good citizens, we should abide by and cooperate with them as best we can. There will be time to play Saturday morning quarterback later. 

Can we agree to fight one war at a time? We would hope that leadership of all parties, religions and groups would recognize the need for us to pull together and speak against divisiveness.  Let’s get back on that road we were traveling with a spirit of bipartisan cooperation. We will go farther and travel easier without the rancor.

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