The power of the mainstream media is frightening.
Take the whole bathroom issue in North Carolina. The vast majority of the people, including many Republicans, don’t seem to understand what happened and blame the Republicans for the problems it has caused the state. Even President Pro Tem of the Senate Phil Berger, who understands exactly what happened, agrees that it has been a big black eye for North Carolina.
Most people think Charlotte passed an ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, meaning they could either use the bathroom, showers and changing facilities of the gender of their birth or the gender with which they currently identify. Then people have been told that the state legislature met in a hurried session and, without much thought or discussion, the Republicans passed a bill requiring transgender people to use the bathroom and other facilities consistent with the sex stated on their birth certificates.
In fact, neither the Charlotte ordinance nor House Bill 2 (HB2) has the word transgender in it. The Charlotte ordinance decreed that all bathrooms, showers and changing facilities in Charlotte that were open to the public, including privately owned facilities, would be gender neutral. The Charlotte ordinance goes so far as to outlaw any signage that would indicate a gender preference, and it applied not only to businesses in Charlotte but to any company that did business with Charlotte, meaning that it would affect companies statewide.
The Charlotte ordinance goes much farther than the news media have reported.
HB2 by comparison has no effect on privately owned facilities but states that everyone will use the bathroom or shower facilities in government facilities consistent with the gender on their birth certificate. It doesn’t treat transgender people differently from everyone else, but treats them the same. Someone who has undergone sex change surgery can have their birth certificate altered to reflect their new sex. So HB2 requires transgender people who had their birth certificates changed to only use the facilities consistent with the sex on their birth certificate like everyone else.
HB2 was passed in a one-day special session, but that doesn’t mean that it was hurriedly written and not discussed. The legislature has to meet to pass a bill but it doesn’t have to meet to write or discuss a bill. The implication is that the legislature went to Raleigh, wrote a bill, considered it and passed it all in one day, which doesn’t make sense.
It also isn’t true that it was passed only by Republicans. In the state House, HB2 passed with bipartisan support; in the state Senate HB2 passed unanimously, not a single nay vote was recorded. If the Democrats find the bill so distasteful, why didn’t the Democratic senators voice that belief by voting against it? The Democratic senators reportedly couldn’t agree on how to vote but could all agree not to vote, so they walked out.
What has hurt the state is not the bill itself, but the protests by liberals against the bill. It is liberals that have called for boycotts of the state because of HB2.
After the protests and the boycotts of the state, the Republicans in the legislature were willing to repeal the bill, if Charlotte repealed its ordinance. Twice last year before the Nov. 8 election, the Republicans in the legislature thought they had a deal with Charlotte to do just that. Both times Gov. Roy Cooper – who was then Attorney General Cooper and the Democratic candidate for governor – stepped in and thwarted the deal.
Finally, after the election in November, the word went out that Charlotte had repealed the ordinance and then Gov. Pat McCrory called the legislature into special session, as he had said he would, to repeal HB2.
Two things happened then. One, the legislature discovered that Charlotte had not in fact repealed the ordinance but only a portion of the ordinance; some legislators believed they had been hoodwinked. Charlotte, to its credit, met on the morning of the special legislative session in Raleigh and repealed the entire ordinance, but there were many reports that as soon as the state repealed HB2 the Charlotte City Council planned to pass a similar ordinance again.
Then state Rep. Chris Sgro, now the executive director of Equality NC, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights organization, said publicly that if the repeal of HB2 passed, his organization would be working with liberal city councils to pass a Charlotte type ordinance.
Because of the sleight of hand by the Charlotte City Council claiming to have repealed the ordinance when it had not, the alleged statements by members of the Charlotte City Council that as soon as HB2 was repealed that Charlotte would pass a similar ordinance and the public statements by Sgro that his organization would be working with other cities to pass similar ordinances, the Republican legislators decided that a moratorium was needed in which no city would be allowed to pass any ordinance regarding who used what bathroom until the legislature met this year and decided on a statewide policy.
The moratorium helped corral some Republicans who otherwise said they would vote against the repeal.
According to Berger, the Senate Democratic leaders said that it all made sense to them and they could support the repeal and the moratorium. It looked like the whole mess would be over, at least for a while. Then Governor-elect Cooper stepped back into the picture and told the Democratic state senators to vote against the repeal and the moratorium.
Democratic state Sen. Joel Ford was quoted in The Charlotte Observer as saying that the Democratic senators didn’t have a problem with the moratorium until Cooper called them and told them to oppose it.
Berger, in response, split the bill in two. First the Senate voted on the repeal. It was a straight up or down vote on repealing HB2, with no moratorium and no conditions.
When the vote was taken, 16 Republican senators including Berger voted in favor of the repeal. All 16 Democratic senators voted against the repeal and they were joined by 16 Republican senators. So the vote to repeal the ordinance failed on a 16-to-32 vote.
The Democratic senators could have voted to repeal HB2 and then voted against the moratorium when that bill was introduced, but because Cooper told them to vote against the repeal they did so in unison. It shows a great deal of party discipline but it didn’t help the state get out of this HB2 debacle.
Now, after all of that, the Republicans are still being blamed for HB2, despite the fact that it passed originally with bipartisan support in the House and no opposition in the Senate and the only elected officials who have voted for the repeal of HB2 are 16 Republican senators.
It’s understandable that Cooper would work to stop any deal on repealing HB2 while he was running for governor. It was a great issue for him in areas like Charlotte, where McCrory had been mayor and had a lot of support. But more importantly, it allowed him to raise money nationwide.
But it seemed like once the election was over and Cooper won, having HB2 repealed could be a feather in his cap. However, until the Supreme Court decision this week that the state, for now, would not be required to hold elections in 2017 in newly drawn legislative districts, it appeared there would be a election for the legislators in 2017. Because of the number of districts that the courts were requiring the state to redraw, it seemed likely that a statewide election would be held.
The word in Raleigh is that Cooper saw the situation he was in, with veto-proof Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House, and was hoping to change that in the 2017 election. To do that the Democrats would need money and HB2 opens the doors for nationwide fundraising.
So the reason that Cooper killed the deal according to some Republicans is that he wanted to be able to continue to raise money nationwide for the upcoming 2017 elections. It’s pretty cynical but it makes more sense than simply being opposed to a possible moratorium that would prevent cities from passing laws that they don’t have the authority to pass in the first place.
The Republican state Senate leadership certainly thought they had a deal with the Democrats, and Ford confirms that it was Cooper who convinced the Democrats in the Senate to vote against the bill.
The problem for North Carolina is that it is going to be extremely difficult to put a deal together at this point to repeal the bill. Particularly in rural areas, there is a lot of support for HB2. It’s hurt cities like Greensboro, Charlotte and Raleigh, but in areas that don’t have big national acts coming and aren’t looking for much in the way of economic development it has had little effect, except to tell people to do what they have done all their lives.
But it is of particular concern for Greensboro because of the NCAA, which is going to announce the tournament sites for the next four years in April. The Greensboro Coliseum has bids in on 53 events and the NCAA has said that unless HB2 is repealed it won’t consider locations in North Carolina, which locks the Coliseum out of NCAA events through 2021.
It looks like, far from solving the problem with the special session in December, because of the lack of trust it engendered, the special session is going to make it far more difficult to repeal HB2.