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The weather forecast this weekend is the Universe’s way of preparing North Carolina for the next four years: Big storms are coming, nobody can predict what will happen and there is maximum risk to life, limb and political futures.

And, just to squeeze the last drops from this metaphor, any slip-ups can be fatal, only the sure-footed will survive and, as a now-gone Governor once famously said, don’t put your stupid hat on.

Governor Cooper’s speech Wednesday drew a clear line in the sand – or snow. He took the legislature head-on. Last month, they tried to gut his power. He saw their bid, raised the stakes and, in effect, said: I’ll show you the power I still have.

He picked three fights. (There is great cosmic meaning in the number three: The Holy Trinity. Three Musketeers. Three Stooges. Three-point shot. Three strikes you’re out, three outs in an inning.)

First fight, of course, is HB2. Second, not unexpected: Raise teacher pay to the national average. (Didn’t Republicans in swing districts campaign on raising teacher pay?) And the bombshell: expand Medicaid. Whether the legislature wants to or not.

Republicans, predictably, went apoplectic. They screamed “raising taxes” and “Obamacare.”

Cooper framed his Medicaid move as good for the economy, not just for saving lives and keeping people healthy (although that’s a good reason in itself).

And, he noted, we’re already paying the taxes. Our money is just going to other states. We’re actually double-taxed, because we pay higher medical bills and higher insurance premiums to cover people who don’t have insurance or Medicaid. That’s a “sick tax” on all of us.

Cooper’s move is good policy, and it’s good politics. He picked three issues that not only poll well, but also energize a Democratic base that needs to turn out in legislative elections this fall.

There’s a real difference between what the legislature did last month and what Cooper did this week. The legislature focused on what’s good for their party, their patronage and their power. The Governor focused on what’s good for the people of North Carolina.

He schooled the legislature on the power that an aggressive Governor has – to dominate the debate and define the battleground.

So bundle up and buckle down. Stormy times are coming.

 

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