Preying in the governor’s mansion

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown

News note: new Gov. Roy Cooper keeps a pet praying mantis in the Executive Mansion in the state capital.

A praying mantis is that odd, little green bug with the big eyes, triangular head and forearms folded as if in prayer. A praying mantis preys on other bugs.

There was a famous “The Far Side” cartoon, which ran in newspapers from 1980-95, in which a fly asks a mantis why is it called “praying.” Without a word, the mantis grabs the fly, and the bug begins praying, “Our Father …”

The governor’s praying mantis actually belongs to one of his girls, “the family’s insect enthusiast,” according to the website, “First Pets of North Carolina.” Yes, there actually is such a web site. The address is I suspect one of the girls is behind it.

I met Roy Cooper one time. At the time he was a first-term state senator and I was a rookie member of the state capital press corps.

Once a year the press corps would host and perform in an evening of skits that poked fun at the Raleigh politicians. The idea came from something similar the national press corps does in Washington.

About all of the big Raleigh politicians would come to our skits because the big shots would be seen as bad sports if they didn’t show up and laugh at and along with their buddies.

That year I had to come up with my own skit. I borrowed an idea from Garrett Morris, a member of the original “Saturday Night Live” comedy troupe. Morris had a “baseball has been berry, berry good to me” bit that he’d perform on TV with an exaggerated Hispanic accent.

For my skit I did something similar. I can’t even remember the topic.

Then the next day I took off out the back of the Legislative Building, where the General Assembly meets, and headed for Legislative Office Building chasing some news item.

While on the pedestrian bridge over Lane Street, from out of the blue I heard this deep voice seemingly coming from out of nowhere and saying, “Saturday Night Live.” That’s all. Just “Saturday Night Live.”

I turned over my right shoulder. It was Sen. Roy Cooper.

An attorney from Down East, Cooper in the early ’90s was considered a potential rising star with good looks, a good reputation and lawyerly good sense, which can be a detriment in the legislature. But Cooper was not yet a part of the Senate leadership circle and instead was an outsider looking in.

“Yeah,” I responded to Cooper, and we awkwardly walked on. Cooper was not one of the legislators in my coverage assignment, so I knew next to nothing about him. On the spur of the moment I couldn’t think of anything more to say.

Recently a reporter actually asked about the new governor’s praying mantis, named Winnifred.

“This is a North Carolina for all. And the Cooper family cares for creatures great and small,” answered spokesman Ford Porter in the only instance that I can recall during which a politician’s press flack resorted to alliteration.

In the Cooper household also are two dogs and two cats, so it’s not like the governor’s mansion has turned into something like the creepy mansion portrayed in the old TV show, “The Addams Family.”

In fact, the governor seems to prefer one of the dogs who appears to have a bit of Golden Lab in him. Normal enough.

But in case you hear of a giant praying mantis who got an overdose of radiation in a N.C. State experiment gone bad and is going around eating Raleigh (credit the bad 1957 sci-fi movie “The Deadly Mantis” for that idea), I think I know who to blame.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris

Back In The Hometown Harris

Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune

comments powered by Disqus