RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As 2023 nears its end, both Republicans and Democrats in North Carolina are focused on the upcoming 2024 election.
The question now: what will voting maps ultimately look like?
Tuesday, Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein filed an amicus brief in federal court to a lawsuit against the state's Senate maps, alleging they violate the Voting Rights Act.
"One thing we need is independent redistricting commissions that can draw these maps. People ought to be able to pick their representatives instead of representatives picking them. That's really what's happening with partisan and racial gerrymandering, and that needs to end. But we have it now. We saw fair districts. (In 2021), we saw seven Democrats and seven Republicans go to Congress. And that's what this state is. This state is a 50/50 purple state," said Gov. Cooper.
Political analysts believe Republicans will now have an advantage in 10 or 11 districts, marking a sharp shift that could play a major role in determining the balance of power on Capitol Hill. State House and State Senate maps could further cement Republican power in both chambers; while Republican legislators have acknowledged drawing lines for a partisan advantage, which is allowed, they have stated racial data was not utilized.
"Time and again, Democrats have demonstrated their desperation by suing for political relief," said Michael Whatley, Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, in a statement distributed last week by the NCGOP. "After years of Democrats' 'Sue til Blue' antics, the People of North Carolina deserve certainty in their elections and we look forward to the court rejecting this political Hail Mary."
Voter enthusiasm and the upcoming 2024 election was just one topic Gov. Cooper discussed part of a wide-ranging sit-down interview with ABC11 inside the Executive Mansion on Wednesday afternoon.
WATCH | Full interview with Roy Cooper
Despite a contentious General Assembly session, in which Republicans utilized their supermajority status to override vetoes, there was bipartisan support on arguably the most notable legislation: Medicaid Expansion.
"It's a long road. It shouldn't have taken this long. But we finally said, yes, we'll take that $521 million a month that we've been turning down from the federal government in tax money that we already pay to Washington and create new jobs in North Carolina and provide all of this health insurance and help keep rural hospital doors open," said Cooper, who described "nontraditional coalitions" working together to push it forward.
North Carolina became the 40th state to pass Medicaid Expansion; while it was agreed to in March, it did not go in effect until earlier this month, a byproduct of language that delayed its implementation until the state budget went into effect.
"One of the best experiences I had was on Friday, December 1st, being at an enrollment center in Charlotte, where people were actually able to get health care insurance. Medicaid Expansion has provided the opportunity for a lot of everyday working people to get health insurance -- child care workers, people who stock our grocery stores, restaurant workers, people who look after our seniors," said Cooper.
Even with the passage, Cooper believes there's still more that needs to be done to strengthen healthcare access.
"We need to work on the mental illness and substance use disorder side. We'd been making a lot of progress before the pandemic. And then when the pandemic hit, a lot of that progress was set back. Now we've really got to get to work to make sure that we deal with behavioral health issues and try to take away the stigma from it, because mental health is just as important as physical health in many cases," Cooper explained.
Supporters of Medicaid Expansion believe it will also play a key role in supporting the state's economy, which has earned national praise amongst drawing several high-profile investments, including from VinFast and Toyota.
"We have the most dedicated, diverse, well-trained, hardworking workforce in the world. And when I talk with these CEOs, that's their main concern. Are you going to have the well-trained people to do these jobs that we create? It's a great thing that we have the best community college system in the country, and we have the best array of public and private universities in the country," Cooper said.
North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, with a 2022 Kenan Institute report listing Raleigh and Durham as the fourth-fastest growing cities.
"With that kind of growth comes success and more money in the pockets of families across North Carolina. But it also brings challenges. More people means that we need to invest more in our transportation and high speed Internet access and water infrastructure. Everybody expects clean drinking water. Those are the kinds of investments that we have to make in order to make sure that we handle this growth here," said Cooper.
Monday, the Governor joined US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for an announcement of nearly $1.1 billion to expand rail transportation in the region, building passenger rail service between Raleigh and Richmond. While completion of the project is still years away, the White House projects it will be a major time-saver for travelers.
As the Governor enters his final year in office, he shared his goals for 2024, including a continued focus on education.
"The legislature has not prioritized investments in K-through-12. In fact, teachers salaries have suffered, principal salaries have suffered. The interesting thing about it is that in conversations I've had with Republicans, even though we may differ on public education and some of the things surrounding it, two things we agree on, you get good schools when you have a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school, and we need to do more to attract and retain good people in those professions," said Cooper, who has been critical of school vouchers.