RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Gov. Roy Cooper, during his fourth and final State of the State address to the General Assembly, will put the spotlight on five people who have seen some of the “transformational investments” the state has made first-hand.

Cooper will speak at 7 p.m. – you can watch via livestream here – and that will be followed by the Republican response from Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, which is a departure from the usual rebuttal remarks from either the Senate president pro tempore or the speaker of the House.

GREENSBORO, NC - APRIL 14: North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is seen before President Joe Biden speaks to guests during a visit to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University on April 14, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Biden was in North Carolina to discuss his administration's efforts to create manufacturing jobs and alleviate the impacts of inflation. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

A release from the governor’s office on Monday said Cooper’s speech would focus on what was called “transformational investments the state has made in child care, workforce development, and broadband and clean water infrastructure,” and to underscore the work of five people who had “first-hand experience in these areas.”

One of them is Meredith Draughn, who is the guidance counselor at B. Everett Jordan Elementary School in Burlington. Draughn was named the American School Counseling Association’s School Counselor of the Year, making the first person from North Carolina so-honored, the release said.

Cooper has made investing in student mental health a top priority for teachers and school staff, and Draughn is a person who deals with those issues.

Also being honored at the speech will be:

  • Rhonda Rivers, regional director of curriculum and training for LeafSpring Schools in Charlotte who helps administer the Child Care Stabilization Grant program.
  • Russell Devane, a resident of Ivanhoe who worked closely with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Sampson County government to help access $13.2 million in funding for a new water system.
  • Phyllis Pillmon, a resident of Ahoskie, and Kim Schwartz, CEO of Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, because Pillmon uses broadband to access telehealth services through that center.

The release said that Cooper’s speech will show progress in those areas and outline “a vision for building enduring prosperity in every corner of the state for decades to come.”

Robinson, who is an all-but-announced candidate to seek the GOP nomination to succeed Cooper in 2024 – only Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, has announced his candidacy formallylikely would reveal how he would view that future.

Robinson, who rose to political prominence after he addressed the Greensboro City Council in 2018 about gun rights in a video that went viral, has been widely expected to seek the job and even has hinted at that in remarks in the past few months. One early poll shows him clearly the favorite.

Speaking on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, D.C., Robinson continued his “I’m probably going to run” approach, by saying, “It’s time for me to stand up and serve.”

He called his candidacy one of the “most poorly kept secrets” in North Carolina and implied that he would pursue the governorship if God called him to do so.

“I’m not saying that I’m ordained to be governor,” he said. “But if it’s his will for me to be, it will be. And no one can stop it.”

Robinson’s message is oddly similar to the views expressed by another man named Mark from Greensboro who is considering a run – former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker – when he declined in early 2022 to withdraw from the GOP race for the U.S. Senate.

Robinson is known for his take-no-prisoners position on a variety of volatile topics, including the LGBTQ community, gun rights, abortion rights, climate change and public education, to name a few. He also has been an active supporter of former President Donald Trump.

All members of the General Assembly, the Council of State (heads of cabinet-level state agencies both elected and appointed) – which includes Stein at least two other people reportedly considering a run for governor, State Treasurer Chair Dale Folwell and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler – members of the North Carolina Supreme Court are invited to attend Cooper’s speech.

Although Robinson technically leads the Senate, his appointment to deliver the rebuttal could be a boost to his candidacy. After Cooper’s address in 2021, that response was delivered by House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), who at the time was thought to be a candidate for Congress in 2022. (Moore decided against a run when the district was redrawn to favor a Democratic candidate).