McCrory and Cooper spar during final NC gubernatorial debate

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Exactly three weeks away from election day, Governor Pat McCrory, Democratic challenger Roy Cooper and Libertarian Lon Cecil met for a debate Tuesday night.

The three shared a stage in Raleigh for what is expected to be the final debate before voters go to the polls.

Voters expected to hear the candidates argue about House Bill 2 — and they did.

There’s a great divide there between Cooper and McCrory.

But Tuesday night, one of the candidates brought up a controversial issue that has not been discussed in previous debates.

“We lowered the income tax. We lowered the business tax. We increased teacher pay,” said Republican Governor Pat McCrory.

“We need more money for the schools. We need more choice for the kids in education,” said Libertarian candidate Lon Cecil.

“We need a governor who knows how to rebuild our communities,” said candidate Roy Cooper, who is currently the N.C. Attorney General.

Among the issues the three addressed were coal ash, which has been front and center in North Carolina politics since the spill in the Dan River nearly three years ago.

“What we need is public officials who are going to listen to scientists, who are going to believe what they say, who act on that,” Cooper said.

“And don’t let political ideology rule the day, in particular when you’re not being honest with the public,” Cooper added.

”His job is supposed to help oversight coal ash. There’s not one email during his 14 years or 16 years as attorney general where he has ever expressed concern about coal ash,” McCrory countered.

At one point, Cooper brought up a story from 2015 that questioned the governor’s role in privatizing maintenance at state prisons with a company run by a McCrory campaign donor — a topic that has not come up in previous debates.

“Governor McCrory gave him a private prison contract over the objections of his staff. He’s talking about political contributions all night tonight. So, if we want to talk about political contributions, governor, you’re the one who now has an FBI criminal investigation,” Cooper said.

McCrory denied the allegations.

“As attorney general, you should absolutely resign right now for saying that. That is absolutely not true,” McCrory said.

The candidates also debated House Bill 2, specifically, whether there should be formal protections passed for the LGBT community.

“I think there needs to be protection at the federal level. I wrote a letter as such. But I will not accept the radical changes that Roy Cooper and (Charlotte mayor) Jennifer Roberts has brought to North Carolina,” McCrory said.

“This is all he can talk about. He goes all over national TV and talks about this. This is why North Carolina is having a problem with its reputation,” Cooper said.

“Repeal House Bill 2 and let’s sit down with a reasoned discussion, look at the bill and let’s write something that takes more than one day,” Cecil added.

The candidates also talked about the state of the economy, the crime lab and abortion legislation in North Carolina.

Early voting starts on Thursday. Click here to find a location for early voting.

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