Politics & Government

Amid contentious budget debates, Cooper took unannounced trip

While Gov. Roy Cooper’s staff was criticizing legislative leaders for “refusing to come to the negotiating table” last week, the governor was traveling out-of-state, his office confirmed.

Cooper spokesperson Ford Porter told the N.C. Insider that Cooper was traveling to New York on Thursday, June 20, for something unrelated to his official duties as governor. Emails from the Insider on Friday and Monday asking for comment from Morgan Jackson, who oversees Cooper’s campaign and is his top political strategist, went unreturned.

On June 20, Sadie Weiner, the director of communications for Cooper, sent out a memo to reporters to update them on the budget negotiations. In the memo, she said legislative leaders left a meeting without agreeing to a proposal to split the negotiations into two tracks -- one to work out health-care related issues such as Medicaid expansion and the other to talk through the full budget framework. She said “the ball remains in (the legislative leaders’) court on this issue.” Her email was sent at 8:31 a.m.

An hour later, Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, called Cooper to invite him to discuss the budget, a spokesperson said. Berger’s call was not returned until 4:30 p.m. At that time they agreed to meet at 9 a.m. the next day at the state Capitol.

Cooper’s travel prompted criticism from Berger’s office. “Here’s yet another example of Governor Cooper’s credibility crisis. Based on what we know right now, he was falsely attacking Republicans for not meeting with him while also dodging their phone calls so he could secretly jet-set to New York,” Berger spokesman Pat Ryan said.

“Today General Assembly leaders continued their good-faith efforts to negotiate the state budget with the Governor by delaying its introduction and talking with him directly again to provide more time for his specific requests in a compromise proposal,” Joseph Kyzer, spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said on Monday, a day before Moore and Berger announced their budget. “Legislative Republicans have sought to achieve consensus with the Governor for weeks on a $24 billion spending plan that benefits all North Carolinians to work out a shared path forward to delivering critical investments in local communities.”

In January, Cooper was criticized by the NCGOP for holding a fundraiser billed as a “campaign kickoff” in New York City. At that time, Jackson told the Insider the campaign doesn’t comment on private fundraising events.

According to the state constitution, whenever the governor is out of the state, the lieutenant governor is automatically elevated to acting governor. “The Governor has only informed the LG of one out of state trip over the last 2.5 years. Last week was not that instance,” Forest spokesperson Jamey Falkenbury said Monday.

Earlier in June, Forest’s potential travel prompted questions from reporters after he was out of the public eye for a few days. On June 3, reporter Travis Fain with WRAL News tweeted: “Wasn’t in the Senate at all last week, budget week. His office won’t say. Spokesman won’t respond. Campaign manager won’t respond. Been asking since Thursday.” When Forest presided over the Senate on June 5, he declined to answer any of Fain’s questions.

Asked by the Insider about where Forest went during the early June absence, Falkenbury said “he is not always able to preside over the Senate as he has many obligations and requests that require him to be away from Raleigh.”

Cooper’s New York trip was not announced publicly or included on his daily schedule of events sent to members of the media. His public schedule said only that he “will be holding meetings and conducting other business.”

On Monday, Forest was out of the state in Washington, D.C. where he met with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and watched President Donald Trump sign an executive order.

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