After 16 years of mediocrity, North Carolina will get to see excellence again in the Executive Mansion.
I know something about excellent Governors. I worked for Jim Hunt for four terms.
Cooper reminds me of Governor Hunt. Not so much the young, ambitious Hunt I and II of 1976-1984. But the seasoned, focused and farsighted Hunt III and IV of 1992-2000.
Cooper is the antithesis of Pat McCrory in three ways: He has the experience to be Governor. He’s smart enough to be Governor. He’s tough enough to be Governor.
Experience: He has served in public office for 30 years, since he was elected to the House in 1986. And, yes, experience is a plus. McCrory was a Raleigh rookie who never figured out big-league pitching.
Smart: According to Frank Daniels, Jr., Cooper is the first UNC Morehead Scholar to become Governor. He has a law degree. And, yes, brains count in the Governor’s Office. The intellectual challenge is formidable. You have to absorb and weigh a lot of information every day, and you have to make tough calls. The easy decisions get made by somebody else.
Tough: McCrory never could handle the legislature. Cooper knows the legislature. He knows how to work with legislators, and he knows how to stand up to them.
In the past, Cooper was pegged as too soft. He dispelled that image in his campaign. And people forget that, as a second-term House member, he had the guts to break with the Democratic caucus in the 1989 Mavretic rebellion.
Then he had the skills to bring Democrats back together.
The aggressive Cooper we saw in this campaign is the Governor we’ll see. He sent that signal Election Night, when he walked onto the stage with his family and declared victory. A more cautious politician would have held back.
Since then, while he navigated Republican efforts to undermine his clear victory, Cooper put together a strong transition team, led by Jim Phillips, Kristi Jones and Ken Eudy.
He had a strong campaign team. He built a strong team in the Department of Justice. He can call on a strong bench of talented people to work in his administration.
Cooper knows rural North Carolina, because he comes from rural North Carolina. He worked on his family’s farm. He knows cities, because he’s lived and raised his family in one. He has strong support from business people, as his fundraising success shows. He energized the traditional Democratic constituencies – teachers, environmentalists, women, African-Americans, Latinos, labor, the LGBTQ community. And even us old white guys.
Cooper is grounded. His wife and three daughters keep him that way.
Most of all, he’s in it for the right reasons.
Cooper has long been expected to run for Governor. The joke is that he’s been a rising star in four different decades.
He waited for the right year. He ran this year not just because he wanted to be Governor, but because he believed he had a responsibility to run, a responsibility to change the state’s course, a responsibility – and an opportunity – to take North Carolina in a new direction.
A Governor who has the right stuff and is in it for the right reasons can do right much good.
Take it from someone who watched a Governor do it.