Gov. Roy Cooper started his second term Saturday facing the challenges of a pandemic that is killing dozens of North Carolina residents each day, as well as political divisions in the state and the nation.
Dozens of North Carolinians die from illnesses related to COVID-19 each day. More than 10,000 new coronavirus infections were recorded in North Carolina on each of the last two days, and hospitals are strained. A field hospital for COVID-19 patients opened in Lenoir County this week.
Earlier this week, as Cooper talked about activating the National Guard to help with vaccine distribution, Cooper said the coronavirus numbers painted “a dark and difficult picture.”
Lies about a stolen presidential election fomented a domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
In his inaugural speech Saturday, Cooper talked about how North Carolinians worked together to help one another last year, and of the hopes and challenges that come with the new year.
He looked back to North Carolina in 1920 for an inspirational story of recovery.
“The state had just lost nearly 14,000 people in the Spanish flu pandemic,” he said.
“And in just a few years, North Carolina roared back. New manufacturing jobs paid reliable wages for the first time to thousands of North Carolinians. With more money in their pockets, people were able to afford to buy cars. And that created the challenge of needing roads for those cars to drive on. So, North Carolina responded and became known as the Good Roads state. Those roads got people to work, but they also enabled them to vacation and enjoy the natural beauty of our state.”
Cooper said he was committed to focusing on the state’s most important challenges – coming out of the pandemic “smarter and stronger than ever,” “educating our people and ensuring that every North Carolinian gets health care,” and “overcoming disinformation and lies and recommitting to the truth.”
“We can respect our disagreements, but we must cherish our democracy,” he said.
The pandemic has changed nearly everything in daily life and familiar rituals, including the inaugural.
The swearing-in ceremony was held outside the Executive Mansion, with State Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby administering the oath of office to Council of State members. Only their families, staff and a few members of the media were there.
Newby, most Council of State members and their family members wore masks. State Auditor Beth Wood wore a face shield. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican and first Black politician elected to that office, did not wear a mask.
The presentation included a recording of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler taking the oath indoors. He did not wear a mask.
There was no parade and there will be no inaugural ball this weekend.
Prayers and musical performances were recorded.
In his opening prayer, the Rev. Dwayne Anthony Walker of Little Rock AME Zion Church in Charlotte, talked about “the pandemic of divisiveness that has plagued us for far too long,” and for unity “regardless of party, racial or economic differences.”
This is the second time Cooper’s inaugural has been disrupted. Four years ago, a snowstorm drove the ceremony indoors and canceled the parade.
“As we enter 2021, we carry the imprint of our people’s frustration and loss as well as our determination and resilience,” Cooper said in his address.
“The lessons we’ve all learned must usher in a new era,” he said.
“An era where we can acknowledge and work around our differences while refusing to sacrifice truth and facts at the altar of ideology. Where the dangerous events that took place at our nation’s Capitol can never be justified. So let’s reach together – to find ways all North Carolinians can afford to see a doctor. To get a quality education and a good paying job. To reform our systems that hurt people of color and to live and work in an economy that leaves no one behind, no matter who they are or where they live.”
Cooper, a Democrat, will again work with a Republican-controlled legislature that opposed a top priority of his first term, expanding Medicaid to more low-income adults, and many of his other initiatives.
North Carolina has one of the highest percentages of uninsured adults in the nation.
Cooper has asked a bipartisan group, including some of the legislature’s staunchest expansion opponents, to look at with ways to get more state residents insured. The group is working under the auspices of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and is expected to finish its work on Jan. 22.
The next legislative session begins Wednesday.