McCrory-Cooper battle could harm government

Apr. 03, 2014 @ 01:28 AM

This editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer.

It's going to be a long and grinding campaign for governor. The election is more than two and a half years away, but the sniping started last year. It's going to get worse.

Attorney General Roy Cooper hasn't announced his candidacy yet, but it's clear he's gunning for Gov. Pat McCrory. He's turned out a steady stream of criticism for McCrory, and the governor is returning fire. The early shots came when the governor decided to hire outside lawyers to help the state defend its constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. Cooper was openly critical of the amendment but said he'd defend it anyway, as his constitutional duty. Given his opposition to the amendment, his defense would appear suspect.

But that's easy-going stuff in light of the more recent dustup over the Duke Energy coal-ash spill into the Dan River and a federal grand jury investigation.

The feds are probing the relationship between Duke and regulators at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The utility and its overseers have long been too cozy, since long before McCrory (a longtime Duke employee) took office. But it's still unclear whether that relationship went beyond legal bounds.

Cooper's campaign has been critical of McCrory's handling of the Feb. 2 spill and environmental issues in general, and has urged backers to sign a petition demanding a cleanup of state waters.

McCrory's chief lawyer says Cooper has politicized the spill and says the attorney general has refused to represent DENR in the federal probe, instead assigning the State Bureau of Investigation to help federal investigators. "By doing so, he chose to create a conflict and has thereby politicized the process," lawyer Bob Stephens said. "His actions ultimately forced DENR to hire outside counsel, which creates additional expense to the taxpayer."

Expect the rhetoric to escalate from there.