Certainly not the fickle, short-sighted Republicans of North Carolina.
And let’s just be honest: Democrats don’t care.
The “Who knew” in particular is: Who knew rejecting a highly successful first term Republican governor, in favor of a Democrat with a long and dubious history would result in scandal, only a year into his first term?
To be fair, Roy Cooper’s ascension to the governor’s office in Raleigh was not without its scandal, but now, here we are again.
Since January, Cooper has been in hot water with Republican leaders because of a deal made with a group of energy companies, who sought to build a multi-state pipeline for carrying natural gas through North Carolina.
The groups got the approval, and not-so-coincidentally, the governor’s office got $58 million from those companies on the same day, for “economic projects” and “work on environmental mitigation.”
What does that even mean?
Now, Republican leaders in the state are asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to open a federal criminal investigation into the deal.
“It’s an obvious pay-to-play situation,” said Robin Hayes, the chairman of the NCGOP, during a Tuesday morning press conference outside the federal courthouse in Raleigh.
They’ve sent requests to Sessions, as well as the local U.S. attorney’s office, charging Cooper with violating something called the Hobbs Act.
The Hobbs Act prohibits extortion that affects interstate or foreign commerce. It was originally enacted in 1946 to combat “racketeering” in labor disputes, but also covers corruption.
Meanwhile, state Democrats are blowing it off as a case of sour grapes.
“Republicans from day one have tried desperately to undermine Governor Cooper by raiding much-needed economic development efforts for eastern North Carolina, flailing from one absurd conspiracy to the next,” Kimberly Reynolds, the executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party, said in a news release.
Republicans already have all the power. Their dominance in the General Assembly assures that Cooper is little better than a figurehead for Democrats in North Carolina. That was the only consolation to a horrific turnout in the governor’s race in 2016.
Of course, Democrats do have their explanation for the troublesome payment.
The pipeline builders agreed to pay the full $58 million only if the pipeline was approved and built. Cooper’s office has said that makes sense, since the money was to be spent on projects related to the pipeline — both to deal with environmental problems and to help spur business growth in some of the more rural parts of the state it will pass through.
Cooper’s defenders have also pointed to the fact that leaders in Eastern North Carolina’s agriculture industry, including the NC Farm Bureau, say they are the ones who originally asked for the money to be provided. They’ve said they wanted to help local businesses tap into the pipeline. And an official from the Department of Environmental Quality, which approved the pipeline’s permit, told legislators last week that the permit’s approval had nothing to do with the $58 million fund.
But what about the environmentalist?
Republicans feel this was Cooper’s way of speeding up the deal before they had a chance to sit on it.
Dallas Woodhouse, the NCGOP executive director, said it appears that “the governor leaned on these power companies for a $58 million slush fund so he could pay off his environmental buddies and deal with a political problem.”
The money itself is now in limbo. The General Assembly quickly passed a new bill into law last month — which Cooper decided not to veto — that moved the $58 million out of Cooper’s office and into a fund meant for public schools near the pipeline. But Cooper’s office has said since that wasn’t part of the deal the pipeline companies agreed to, he fears that the state might now miss out on all the money.
Woodhouse is comparing this to another case of political corruption in recent history – that of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Blagojevich is cooling his heels in prison, after being convicted of 18 counts of corruption. One of those counts was for trying to sell Barack Obama’s soon-to-be-vacant senate seat in 2008.
Amazingly, that count, along with seven others of his original 18 counts were dropped. The judge said that trying to benefit financially from selling a senate seat was wrong, but, no biggie.
Yeah. I don’t get that, either.
And while Republican lawmakers aren’t specifically comparing Cooper to Blagojevich, the fact that the pipeline will be running by property he owns could be troublesome.
Cooper claims he won’t be benefitting from the pipeline, financially.