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Governor tells of need to fight opioid crisis
Thursday, 05 October 2017 11:45
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SWANNANOA — A key step in tackling the nation’s opioid-addiction epidemic is to ensure that as many people as possible have health insurance, Gov. Roy Cooper said during a 20-minute speech to the Council of Independent Business Owners and its guests on Aug. 31.

In underlining the magnitude of the epidemic, Cooper noted that more Americans now are killed by opioids than car wrecks. (Opioids are used to treat moderate to severe pain that may not respond well to other pain medications. They include heroin, synthetic heroin and several painkillers.)

Despite the opioid problem, he lamented that Republicans in Washington are seeking to reduce the number of people with insurance by rewriting the Affordable Care Act. Cooper also said he would like the state General Assembly to vote to expand Medicaid.

“We cannot take health insurance away from millions of people and expect to have success against the opioid crisis,” the governor said. “It requires treatment. It requires prevention.

And often, people just simply cannot afford it without coverage.”

The governor also touted the need for more spending on education so that the graduates can get good jobs — and to provide a talented workforce — for businesses and industries interested in locating or expanding in North Carolina. While education spending was increased this year by the leglistature, he said it was not enough.

Clashes between Cooper, a Democrat, and the GOP-controlled General Assembly have been well-publicized, but the governor noted — with a note of apparent pride — that  he does manage to work with the Republican legislators.

He received standing ovations upon his introduction and at the conclusion of his speech.

CIBO members and guests are known for firing tough questions at their speakers, but it was noted before Cooper’s speech that he would not be fielding any questions afterward because his day’s schedule was packed with meetings throughout Western North Carolina. Indeed, he departed shortly after speaking.

About 130 people attended the CIBO luncheon meeting at Land of the Sky Shrine Club in Swannanoa.

Among the many elected officials attending were Esther Manheimer, mayor of Asheville; and Brownie Newman, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Cooper is a Democrat, as are Manheimer and Newman.

Manheimer introduced Cooper to the CIBO gathering, noting that he was born and raised in Nash County, before earning his law degree at UNC Chapel Hill.

“When he was Senate Majority leader, he sought to ban payday lenders,” Manheimer noted.

After being elected as state attorney general in 2000, he sought to overturn HB2 (aka “the bathroom bill.”)

“As governor, he is willing to make lasting investments in our future... Roy Cooper also is committed to making sure North Carolina’s government looks like the people it represents,” thereby seeking to make the workforce more diverse.

“He has a reputation as being honest, hard-working and ethical. He is a natural leader... It is my true honor to introduce to you our governor, Roy Cooper!”

The crowd rose en masse to greet the governor as he approached the lectern.

Cooper began his address by thanking Manheimer “for her kind remarks” and he said he was pleased to recognize a number of his “good friends” in the audience.

He then added, “I wish I could stay longer today, but I’ve got an incredibly tight schedule. There’s a lot going on.”

However, Cooper pointed out with a note of pride, “I promised you I’d come back (upon election) — and I am back.”

Recognizing CIBO’s role in the business community, Cooper said, “I know that small independent businesses are the backbone of our economy in North Carolina.” He added that, as governor, he also realizes how important it is for him “to know when to help and when to stay out of the way.”

Further, he said, “It is so important for us to work together for prosperity.

“I come from Eastern North Carolina, so it’s particularly good for me to come out west.”

To that end, Cooper noted that, as a result of Duke’s coal plant settlement, WNC residents will benefit from a cleaner environment “because of that effort we put together in North Carolina’s legislature.”

He added, “I’m proud to come here, where the economy is at the top of the list....”

On a personal note, the governor said, “I got my values from my Mom and Dad. I have worked as a legislator, an attorney general and now as governor. I did have a small business for a number of a years — an attorney’s office...

“You know a CEO (chief executive officer) needs a mission statement.” To that end, Cooper said, “When people ask me why I want to be governor and what I want to see... I want a North Carolina where people are healthier, better-educated and have the opportunity to have money in their pockets so that they can live a more abundant life.”

To CIBO’s members, Cooper said, “You’re helping that vision. What you do in the greater Asheville area, creating more than 11,000 jobs for people,” including beer and survival gear “You employ veterans. You are our Sunday school teachers,. You are our community leaders. I’m grateful for that. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today.”

Further, he said, “Our small business and innovation communities are critical. At the same time, we want to recruit companies into our state. Not only across the country, but across the world...

“They’re seeing it’s probably economically smart for them to come to the United States. So we’re seeing a growth in advanced manufacturing.

“I also talk to CEOs of companies who are already here (in North Carolina), urging them to expand. The No. 1 thing I hear from those CEOs —  the No. 1 thing I hear is (availability of) ‘workforce.’” 

Cooper said the CEOs constantly ask him, “‘Do you have the people I need to do the jobs I’ve got?’

“That discussion comes up, even before bringing up taxes,” he said with a laugh.

“So what we have to do is make North Carolina a top 10 educational state by 2025. That’s critical. We’ve got to pull together to make it happen.

“Now, you’ve read about the disagreements I’ve had with the legislature,” where Republicans control both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly.

“That’s very real. What you don’t read about is that I work very hard to work with the legislature. We want to send a signal that we’re a state that’s open to all people… We’re sending a signal that we offer incentive packages.

“It’s important to have this kind of relationship because we need leaders who are willing to step up and build coalitions... I recommend everyone to, occasionally, take someone out to lunch with whom one has disagreements — and listen to them on why they think as they do.”

What’s more, Cooper said, “We need more kids graduating from high school” in North Carolina. “We need more kids graduating from pre-kindergarten,” which studies he cited show, is an important stepping stone to future success.

As for increasing education spending, the governor said he and the General Assembly “talked and talked about it. We increased it (the spending), but not enough...

“The kids in schools need the kind of education that gives them critical-thinking skills...

“Our community colleges and universities will be the focal point” for future job growth in North Carolina.

The governor added, “We have one of the best community college systems in the country. Our colleges and universities are renowned. But we cannot allow them to fall into disrepair.

“To have the kind of workforce we need, we have to invest in public education...

“Another thing is investing in high-speed Internet” in rural areas, Cooper said. “There are a lot of households in rural North Carolina that don’t have broad-band access... We need to make sure we connect these small businesses. We have to do that.

“I believe that we have an amazingly bright future for this state. We have all of the building blocks.”

However, a problem that he finds especially vexing, he said, is “an epidemic of opioid abuse in North Carolina and across the country.... 

“We’re losing (through premature death) about four people per day in North Carolina. Our emergency rooms are being inundated with people. 

“Businesses are telling me it (the opioid crisis) is causing them (major) problems with lost productivity with their workers. We have to address it. I put forward a plan… As we know in law enforcement, at the level of the person who is using these substances, we can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” the governor said.



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