"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Q&A: Gov. Cooper discusses his priorities for 2024 and political participation on college campuses

The Old Gold & Black sat down with Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina to discuss his goals as his term comes to a close. (Courtesy of the official website of the State of North Carolina)

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.  

Old Gold & Black: My first question for you is, as you begin your last year as governor, what would you say are your priorities?

Gov. Cooper: 2024 is going to be the year of public schools in North Carolina. Our public schools are doing a great job educating our children — but they’re hanging on by a thread. They’re operating on a shoestring budget. Our teachers are underpaid and underappreciated. And we have to do more for public schools in North Carolina. 

So we’re going to be putting together coalitions of businesses, of parents of students and of people that care deeply about public education, to convince the legislature like we did with Medicaid expansion, that it’s time to do better to fund our public schools and to pay our teachers what they deserve. And we’re going to work very hard over this next year. I’m gonna spend a lot of time in our public schools, talking with teachers. Some of these Wake Forest students will go into teaching — we need you. We need you to do that. 

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I’m going to work hard as governor every single day. It’s been the honor and privilege of my life to serve as governor to this day, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work.

— Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina

We’re also going to continue working to make sure that we move to a clean energy future. We’re gonna keep reducing our carbon emissions. We’ve got a law that we passed in the General Assembly to reduce emissions in the power sector by 70% by 2030 and to get to carbon zero by 2050. That will be critical. 

We’re going to fight for women’s reproductive freedom. These elections coming up will make a big difference in that arena. In North Carolina, we’ll have an important governor’s race coming up and state legislative races all across the state. So we’re going to work to make people understand that women’s reproductive freedom is going to be on the ballot in 2024. As is our democracy. 

We’re going to continue working to attract good-paying jobs here in North Carolina too. We want graduates of Wake Forest to be able to go into the fields that they’ve studied and to be able to get good-paying jobs to support their families. I’m looking forward to the next 11 and a half months. I’m going to work hard as governor every single day. It’s been the honor and privilege of my life to serve as governor to this day, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work. 

Old Gold & Black: Where do you hope to be at the end of 2024? What do you hope to have accomplished by the time you’re finished in your role?

Gov. Cooper: I came into office with the mission that North Carolina had to be a state where people are better educated, where they’re healthier, where they have more money in their pockets and they have the opportunities to live lives of abundance. Now in North Carolina, we passed Medicaid expansion. We’re gonna get 600,000 more people with health insurance who didn’t have it before. We have become a clean energy epicenter where we’re attracting EV manufacturers, EV battery manufacturers and clean jet manufacturers that are going to be putting money in the pockets of everyday families because they’re going to have these better-paying jobs. 

We’ve instituted strong job training programs across the state, making people better educated and ready to take these jobs. I think we will have accomplished a lot of those things. I want to work hard this year on early childhood education in our public schools because if there’s a place where we need extra work, it’s there. And I’m gonna spend time doing that. The rest of this year, and hopefully we’ll build a coalition of people that’s ready to take this on in 2025 and beyond. 

Old Gold & Black: You were just talking about the importance of public schools and how this year public schools and schools in general are going to be a priority for you. We’ve seen around the nation that college campuses have become flashpoints for advocacy in recent months. With dozens of colleges and universities in North Carolina, what steps is your office planning on taking, and what are your priorities regarding ensuring free speech on campuses?

What I would like to see, and what I encourage students to do is make a choice: register to vote and vote in this election.

— Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina

Gov. Cooper: Well, it’s important that campuses are places where people can bring all kinds of ideas, and to make sure that they can share them in an intellectually stimulating way so that people actually listen to each other and learn. That’s positive, but messages of violence and hate speech don’t have a place on our campuses. 

I’ve talked to many students across our state. So many are passionate about so many issues, such as taking on gun violence. They’re very frustrated that we don’t have elected officials who are willing like I am to ban assault weapons and to do more to get guns out of the hands of criminals and children and people who should not have them. Young students who care about climate change and protecting this planet for the future. Young people who care about reproductive freedom and who care about public schools and who care about fighting against discrimination on the basis of race against our LGBTQ + community. 

Those are the kinds of things that I talk to students about that they are really passionate, intelligent and well-informed about. What you often don’t see, is that transferring to actually voting. One of the problems with that is that students are often very transient. You go to school and ask “Hey, do I register in my home county, or do I register where my university is? Where do I register and vote?” Sometimes it just never happens, because they’re making decisions or you get started and it just doesn’t happen. 

What I would like to see, and what I encourage students to do is make a choice: register to vote and vote in this election. I believe democracy itself is on the ballot in this election. I want to see the percentage of young people go up in participation because older people vote. There is a very high percentage of older people who vote, but the way young people can make a difference and really can turn the tide of elections is through registering and voting.

Old Gold & Black: Most Old Gold & Black readers and Wake Forest students are from out of state. Why would you say that North Carolina and participating politically is worth paying attention to in 2024?

Gov. Cooper: North Carolina is a swing state politically. Whatever your position, if you register and vote here, you can make a difference in what happens in this country. I think you will see both the Republican and Democratic parties targeting North Carolina as a state that’s going to make a difference. Secondly, so many people who come to school from out of state end up staying in North Carolina or end up coming back here because North Carolina is such an amazing place to live. And I know a lot of my out-of-state friends that I made at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill stayed in North Carolina or shortly thereafter, came back; so you want to try to have an effect nationally, but you also want to have an effect in the state where you come and you may stay.

Old Gold & Black: Why is it important that college students and younger people participate, vote or get involved in political advocacy on campuses?

Gov. Cooper: It’s your future, and you’re the ones that are going to have to deal with what kind of democracy we’re going to have decades from now. You’re going to have to deal with whether we continue to pollute our planet and end up making it unhealthy for everybody. You’re going to have to deal with whether we’re going to have great-paying jobs. Voting in these elections can make a real difference. 

I will say that sometimes maybe a college student can look and say, “Why should I vote in a contest between two 80-year-old people?” The answer is that there are stark differences between these candidates, and they have very different directions for this country. It’s important for young people to register and vote because you can actually sway this election. You can actually be the difference maker. And I’ve talked to a lot of campus leaders who want to see that happen. And I hope it does.

Watch the full interview here:


Correction 2/6: The eighth paragraph of this story contained a grammatical error that has since been corrected.

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About the Contributor
Maddie Stopyra
Maddie Stopyra, Editor-in-Chief
Maddie is a junior from Rural Hall, N.C. majoring in English and minoring in journalism and psychology. Outside of the OGB, she is also a member of the campus a cappella group Minor Variation. In her free time, you can find her reading novels and going to coffee shops with friends.

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