The criticism could not have been much harsher: North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature had set out to undo 50 years of progress with a Tea Party-inspired “playground of extremist fantasies” that include tax giveaways to its richest residents and election law changes that make it harder for residents to register and vote. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has been very critical of several actions by the legislature. But the author of that scathing assessment in The Huffington Post last week was the North Carolina attorney general, Roy Cooper, a Democrat and the man whose job it is to enforce those laws, including the voting changes that have already become the subject of a federal lawsuit. His remarks brought a sharp rebuke from Gov. Pat McCrory and accusations from Republicans that Mr. Cooper is letting his ambition — he is widely expected to run against Mr. McCrory, a Republican, in 2016 — get in the way of his duties as attorney general. And the dispute between the two is a reminder of how deep and bitter the divide remains in a state still making sense of the fiercely conservative, boldly activist legislative session that ended in July. In a state long seen as a relatively moderate outlier in the South, the session was the first with a Republican governor and legislature since Reconstruction.
Mr. Cooper is not backing off his criticism. “The legislature should be spending more of their time on issues that matter in this state, such as jobs, education and Medicaid expansion,” he said in an interview this week. But he said his views do not affect his ability to enforce the law.
Mr. McCrory disagrees. “He can have his personal opinion, but as a lawyer he should not publicize your personal opinion if you’re going to be defending the people who are promoting this common-sense law,” he said Monday during an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. “Good lawyers don’t do that.”
The governor’s communications director, Kim Genardo, accused Mr. Cooper of “using political invectives instead of the facts.”
Mr. McCrory has used executive office funds to hire outside counsel, Butch Bowers, who represented South Carolina last year on voting rights issues. Bob Stephens, the governor’s general counsel, said, “We have serious concerns about statements Attorney General Cooper made which could cause a potential conflict and even be used against the state he represents.”
Mr. Cooper said that he would work with the outside counsel the governor hired, but that the attorney general’s office would defend the state as it has in the past.