2017 was a cold first year for Governor Cooper. More heat is coming in 2018.
Fittingly Cooper started both years on TV, managing snow and ice storms and wearing “disaster casual” (a tip of the TAP hat to Joe Stewart). In between, the Governor navigated an icy relationship with a power-crazed Republican legislature. He spent a lot of time in court battling legislators’ blizzard of power grabs.
How did he do? Well, there are two ways to keep score in politics (between elections): polls and fundraising.
His poll numbers are far sunnier than the legislature’s. Cooper’s approval ratings are in the mid-50s; the legislature’s are in the low 20s.
Cooper and his team are relentlessly raising money to break the Republican super-majority. As a challenger in 2016, Cooper outraised a sitting Governor by 3-2. Given incumbency and Democratic anger/enthusiasm, he’s probably raking it in.
Ultimately, Cooper will – fairly or not – be rated on whether he restores Democrats’ clout in the legislature and whether he wins reelection. (No one-term Governor will ever be judged a success.)
As Governor last year, Cooper was notably cooped up by the legislature – to an extent no North Carolina Governor ever had to endure. But he still had some wins: big job announcements and, notably, repeal of HB2.
True to his cautious and somewhat reserved nature, Cooper chose not to spend his first year as Governor No – publicly bashing the legislature every day on every issue, tempting though it may be. That’s one reason his poll ratings held up; he’s not seen as a typical politician.
He could change as the 2018 mid-term elections near. It’s striking that he spoke out so strongly in December against the Republican tax bill in Congress. He did the same on Obamacare. And now on off-shore drilling.
On state issues, he’s focusing on the Republican-created class size chaos, which is a hot enough issue to bring out hundreds of protesters on a freezing-cold day, and water quality.
Like most Governors, this one would love nothing more than to birth a signature initiative that goes down in history, like Terry Sanford’s education program or Jim Hunt’s Smart Start and teacher pay raises. The Governor has to weigh whether to propose something that this legislature might swallow (like what?) – or something they’ll reject and he can use as a campaign club.
All told, Cooper adeptly survived a forbidding first year. A warmup looks likely this year, thanks in part to a national political climate change that bodes well for Democrats. The big storm comes November 6.