As Gov. Roy Cooper enters his second term as governor, he sees North Carolina dragged down not just by the COVID pandemic, but by racism, unaffordable health care, and unequal opportunity.
In a sharp contrast, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson cast himself as an example of North Carolina’s successes as he was sworn in as the state’s first black lieutenant governor. In his North Carolina, the people of the state are locked in a larger, national battle for freedom.
These radically different views of the state and its trajectory, illustrated in the two men’s inaugural addresses, set up another conflict between the state’s top executive branch leaders. Again, North Carolina’s governor and lieutenant governor are of differing parties — Cooper a Democrat, Robinson a Republican. Robinson was elected in November to succeed Republican Dan Forest, who served for the past eight years.
In Cooper’s brief speech Saturday, he described the need to pull together to improve a state awash in “disinformation and lies” and hampered by lack of access to doctors, good schools and good jobs. He said the state’s resilience and strength would be enough to succeed.
“Let’s reach together to find ways all North Carolinians can afford to see a doctor, to get a quality education and a good paying job, to reform our systems that hurt people of color and to live and work in an economy that leaves no one behind, no matter who they are or where they live,” he said.
In Robinson’s estimation, North Carolina is a lot further along that path. He described the poverty of his own humble upbringing and praised the state and the country for giving him the opportunity to rise.
“Anybody that does not believe that the United States of America is the greatest country on earth — I have a story to tell you,” Robinson said at the conclusion of his swearing-in ceremony last week. “I have a story of pride, I have a story of overcoming all the bad things and raising up into good things. I have a story, and I intend to tell that story and I intend to fight for the freedom that God has given us.”
These two views are likely to clash repeatedly in the coming years as North Carolina navigates its recovery from the coronavirus and its associated economic restrictions, as well as the state’s perennial fights over education funding and Medicaid expansion.
Already, Robinson has used his perspective on the nation’s history to push back against proposed social studies standards in his new position on the State Board of Education.
Cooper’s address did little to forecast his policy priorities in the upcoming long session. But Robinson foreshadowed his approach to governing. Much like his grassroots-heavy campaign for office, the new lieutenant governor indicated he would try to mobilize popular support to influence the General Assembly.
“Those of y’all that got the number of the legislative building over there, I want you to call them and I want you to tell them that justice is coming,” Robinson said. “Righteousness is coming. Good is coming. Common sense is coming. Tell them the people of North Carolina are coming and they want their freedom, and they’re going to keep their freedom, come hell or high water.”
Andrew Dunn is a freelance writer covering N.C. politics.