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In inaugural address, Cooper seeks consensus, but also draws line

RALEIGH (AP) — Starting his term amid acrimony with Republicans, North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vowed in his inaugural address Saturday to “do everything possible to reach consensus” while setting limits and pressing his case to expand Medicaid coverage and getting rid of a law limiting gay rights.

Speaking only to a television audience after a larger inauguration ceremony set for Saturday didn’t happen due to the winter storm, Cooper said he wants to lead the way in rebuilding in North Carolina trust in each other and “a government that reflects the priorities of its people.”

Cooper narrowly defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in November. Cooper, who was officially sworn in early on New Year’s Day, said people are still hurting in the state due to stagnant wages and rising health care expenses.

“I’ll never forget my solemn duty to do what I can to create more opportunities for the folks who have it hard,” the former attorney general said from the Executive Mansion during his 15-minute speech. “And I’ll listen to anyone with a good idea to move our state forward, regardless of his or her political party.”

While Cooper told listeners he refuses to spend the next four years engaging in political brinkmanship, he draws the line “when a law attempts to make any North Carolinian less in the eyes of their fellow citizens, I will fight it. I will stand up for you if the Legislature cannot or will not.”

Such a law includes House Bill 2, which approved last March prevents local governments from passing broad anti-discrimination ordinances for LGBT people and directs which restrooms transgender people can use in schools and government buildings. Companies have declined to expand, entertainers canceled concerts and the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference pulled their championships in the state in protest of the law.

An effort last month by Cooper and GOP lawmakers to repeal the law fell apart due amid partisan finger-pointing. Cooper said Saturday there is enough bipartisan support in the House and Senate to repeal HB2. “This is not complicated. In fact, it’s very simple: Let. Them. Vote.”

Cooper attempted to sell his new effort to expand Medicaid to cover more than 500,000 people through President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, even as the federal law is in danger of repeal in Washington. He filed paperwork Friday to begin the expansion application process despite state law that says he can’t seek expansion without formal support from the Legislature, which he lacks. He pointed out other states with GOP leaders have embraced expansion.

“Republican governors across the nation have put partisanship aside, and done what is best for their states,” Cooper said. “It is time for us to do the same.”

Cooper also mentioned other highlights of his agenda include raising teacher salaries further, returning to embrace renewable energy and improving relations between state and local governments and between law enforcement and communities they serve.

“Everyone is safer when a sense of mutual trust and respect prevails,” Cooper said.

The snow and sleet canceled other inaugural events or moved them to Friday.

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