The bipartisan road of cooperation has taken a partisan turn

Published May 14, 2020

By Tom Campbell

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 their 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 “NC Freedom of Work Act,” backed by Republican conservatives in the NC Senate. It essentially tells businesses and others that they can ignore the Emergency Directives of Governor Cooper 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 re-open.
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. DHHS 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.
This week a letter, signed by Republican members of the Council of State asked the Governor to call an emergency Council of State meeting to discuss COVID-19. They had just met May 5th, 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 the letter’s partisanship.
I had a former Supreme Court Justice review North Carolina GS 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 healthcare crisis most of us have ever experienced. Governor 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.