The transcript of Gov. Cooper’s inaugural address
“Good morning. I hope everyone is safe and at home during this winter weather. I encourage you to stay there and off the highways until the roads are clear. Because of this storm, we have postponed the inauguration. But I wanted to spend a few moments with you to outline my priorities for North Carolina.
In 1776, the early settlers of North Carolina faced a defining moment. They came from all over our state – from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks- and gathered in the little town of Halifax.
There, without a single vote of dissent, they resolved to be the first state to petition the Continental Congress to declare American independence. And just like that, a small village became part of an unlikely story that would unfold over the centuries.
In this state, in our time, it has been the story of North Carolinians’ courage to lead on education, confront recession, and expand civil rights. Even in moments of tension, our grit and determination have always led to greater progress, no matter how challenging the journey may be.
We were the first state in America to open our doors to publicly supported higher education. We had the foresight to create the Research Triangle Park. And through the efforts and sacrifices of all our citizens, we have built a state where anyone would be glad to raise a family.
Our proud history didn’t come out of thin air. It came from us. It happened because we weren’t afraid to dream big and we kept our focus on the future.
That’s why today, my eyes remain fixed firmly on the horizon.
Now is not the time to point fingers or dwell on recent battles. The people of this state are tired of yesterday’s politics. You expect – and deserve – public servants who reject cynicism, who don’t succumb to political paralysis, who negotiate differences in good faith.
I pledge to lead by example. I will never stop fighting for North Carolinians.
I will do everything possible to reach consensus. I know we can find common ground on education when we all agree our teachers deserve a raise. I know we can come together to improve health care when we all agree that getting more families covered isn’t just a moral obligation but a financial responsibility, because we want all folks to pay fewer medical bills and have more money in their pockets.
So don’t let the last few months discourage you. There’s a lot we can accomplish, and I can’t wait to get started. I enter this office humbled by the responsibility you’ve placed in me. Whether or not I won your vote, I’m going to be working for you.
I wouldn’t be standing here today without the support of my family. I want to thank my amazing wife, Kristin, who’s been my partner from the start, and will be a sensational First Lady. I’m grateful for my daughters, Hilary, Natalie and Claire. Whenever I think of the future, I see their faces. They inspire me. They remind me that today, we have a new chance to find our way forward together. So here’s how we do it.
First, we need to rebuild trust – in our democracy, and each other.
Right now, too many North Carolinians are feeling betrayed and forgotten. By corporations. By the government. By a system that seems stacked against them in favor of the wealthy and well-connected. By politicians who get elected and immediately start picking partisan fights. You see all this, and you feel like no one in government looks out for your interests. You deserve better. I was raised to believe that we ought to care for those who feel left behind. As it says in Romans 12: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” Whatever faith tradition you come from, that’s a universal notion. It’s a value that was instilled in me as a boy. I grew up working on a farm in Nash County. I knew neighbors who got ripped off by bad loans or insurance scams. I saw classmates scarred by witnessing domestic violence. I watched families scrimp and save to care for loved ones who were old or sick.
I talk a lot about my mom, the school teacher, and the difference she made in my life and in others’. My Dad was a role model for me too. He taught Sunday School, worked as a lawyer, stood as a pillar in our small community. He inspired me to become a lawyer myself. And once I did, my life experiences, and my faith, compelled me to fight for ordinary people. Once I became your Attorney General, I took on the powerful. I stood up for people who faced an uneven playing field, or had a run of bad luck, or just needed someone on their side. As Governor, those same values will light my way forward. I’ll never forget my solemn duty to do what I can to create more opportunities for the folks who have it hard. And I will listen to anyone with a good idea to move our state forward, regardless of his or her political party. That’s how our state has always been able to thrive, and that’s the kind of leadership that I’ll restore in Raleigh.
Second, we need to rebuild a government that reflects the priorities of its people.
Our government needs to know when to help, and when to stay out of the way. I don’t think anyone believes that North Carolina families sit around the kitchen table every night thinking that their lives would change for the better if only the legislature would spend its time on the hot-button social issue of the day.
People have bigger concerns. Like why they haven’t gotten a raise in eight years. Or why the cost of health insurance is too much to bear. Or if they can afford to send their kids to college, and if they’ll be able to find good jobs. Those are the concerns I will focus on every single day.
We’ll work to create a strong and fair economy. We’ll put more money in people’s pockets by cutting taxes for middle class families, and providing the right incentives for more small businesses to create jobs right here in North Carolina.
I know we can do this. We didn’t agree on everything when I was in the legislature, but we found consensus to cut taxes, expand early childhood education and raise teacher pay to the national average. Even today, I know a lot of Democrats who believe in creating a good climate for businesses. And I know a lot of Republicans who want to get health care for the uninsured and properly fund public education. So no party gets it right all the time but here is where I draw the line: when a law attempts to make any North Carolinian less in the eyes of their fellow citizens, I will fight it. I will stand up for you if the legislature cannot or will not. And I want every elected official to hear me when I say: I refuse to spend the next four years engaging in political brinkmanship – because we’ve got too much work to do for the people who need our help.
House Bill 2 is exactly the kind of social issue we don’t need on our books. This law has isolated and hurt a lot of people, damaged our state’s reputation, and cost our economy hundreds of millions of dollars that could have paid our teachers and firefighters or built new highways. There are enough bipartisan votes in the legislature right now to fully repeal House Bill 2 with no strings attached.
This is not complicated. In fact, it’s very simple: Let. Them. Vote.
And I want to send a message to all the CEOs of businesses and organizers of events who pulled out of this state because of this law: North Carolina is open for business. We want to welcome you and all kinds of people back to one of the most innovative business climates in America.
That spirit of innovation is due in part to our academic excellence. From our great universities, to the outstanding community colleges across the state, North Carolina excels in equipping the next generation of students with the skills they need to compete in a global economy. We must invest in higher education once again.
And as the son of a public school teacher, I’m committed to investing in early childhood education, raising teacher pay and giving our kids the schools they deserve. We also need health care that’s affordable and available. It’s long past time to expand Medicaid, so more working North Carolinians can get the health care they need. It just makes common sense: It will create tens of thousands of jobs. Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians will finally be insured and rural hospitals will stop being closed down. That’s why Republican Governors across the nation have put partisanship aside, and done what’s best for their states. It is time for us to do the same. And I’ll return to pursuing renewable energy. It won’t just create thousands of jobs, it will ensure our air is clean, our water is clear, and the natural beauty of the Tar Heel state survives for our sons and daughters.
Finally, we need to rebuild communities across North Carolina.
Over the last year, we have suffered more than our fair share of trauma and disaster. Wildfires forced evacuations in the mountains. We lost friends and neighbors in Hurricane Matthew. Now, even months after the water has receded, many families are still trying to get back above it. We need to make sure we help them recover. That’s the North Carolina way.
And we must continue to support our communities of military families and the veterans who have had the courage to keep us safe.
And we need to commit to fixing our crumbling roads and bridges. Let’s repair the arteries that connect our cities and towns.
And we have some relationships to repair within those cities and towns, too. We have to do more than just talk about the frayed relations between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect. We have to do something. I know the tough and honorable work our police officers do every day. We need to improve their pay and retirement benefits and provide them with the training that they need. I also know that many North Carolinians in communities feel systematically targeted. As Governor, I’ll work to improve police-community relationships, because everyone is safer when a sense of mutual trust and respect prevails.
We don’t have to look any further than Robeson County to see this in action. After the storm surge of Hurricane Matthew flooded the local elementary school, everyone stepped up to make sure those kids had a safe place to learn. It didn’t matter what they looked like, or where they came from. Donations poured in from nearby businesses, churches, and just everyday folks across the community.
That’s the essence of North Carolina. The spirit of Halifax. The belief that despite all our differences, we come together on the things that matter. Together, we can do more than just remember the courage of our ancestors.
We can embrace the idea of a North Carolina that’s truly for all of us.
Thank you all – and God bless the state of North Carolina.”
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