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The Daily Tar Heel
View from the Hill

Cooper's early planning makes Republicans uneasy

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper is planning a run for the North Carolina Governor’s Mansion, but Republicans say it would affect his performance at his current position.

Last Saturday, Cooper, a Democrat, told a gathering of supporters that he is making preparations to run in 2016, which the N.C. Republican Party said will compromise his duties as an elected official.

“Cooper’s flagrant political posturing is an incredible disservice to the people of North Carolina,” the organization said in a statement released Monday.

The N.C. Republican Party also said Cooper’s criticisms of the state’s voter law affect his ability to represent the state in the lawsuit filed last week by the U.S. Department of Justice.

But Micah Beasley, spokesman for the N.C. Democratic Party, said in an email that Cooper can work as an objective representative of the state while also campaigning.

“He has handled numerous sensitive and complicated issues during his tenure, and he’ll keep doing his job the way he always has,” he said.

Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor, said many candidates campaign early in their terms, including Gov. Pat McCrory.

“We have entered an era of what some people call a ‘perpetual campaign,’” Guillory said. “And that governing and campaigning take place on parallel tracks.”

Guillory said voters will decide whether a candidate who is already serving in an elected office is successfully performing both roles, but that Cooper’s early candidacy wouldn’t guarantee his success.

“Just because Roy Cooper steps forward now doesn’t mean that he won’t have competition for the Democratic nomination in 2016,” he said.

Cooper is not the only elected official seeking higher office. N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, is a candidate for the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

Mitch Kokai, spokesman for the conservative John Locke Foundation, said Tillis has more time to devote to his campaign than Cooper would, since the N.C. General Assembly is a part-time body.

“This gives him a great deal of freedom to travel across the state and campaign, while Roy Cooper has continuing day-to-day responsibilities as attorney general,” he said.

State legislators completed their long session this summer and will not return to the legislature for the short session until after the May 2014 primary.

But Beasley said during the session, Tillis’ campaign interfered with his job responsibilities.

“Thom Tillis has skipped out on leading the N.C. House during key votes and budget negotiations to raise money for his Senate campaign,” he said. “Roy Cooper isn’t going take his eye off the ball when it comes to defending the rights of North Carolinians.”

Kokai said it’s also important for someone in Cooper’s position not to confuse the campaign with the current job.

“This is not a good situation for taxpayers,” he said.

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