Rarely has one piece of legislation caused so much consternation for one party. HB2 is so stuck on Republicans that they can’t get rid of it. They passed it in a special twelve-hour session of the legislature a year ago and then-Governor Pat McCrory signed it in the middle of the night.
The former party of Lincoln thought it would be good politics, driving out their base while driving a wedge between Democrats. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, it alienated more moderate Republicans in urban areas, energized the Democratic base, and brought national scorn to the state.
The GOP has tried to pass the buck for the damage. They started out by blaming Charlotte, but nobody’s buying that. They called the session, they drafted legislation that was broad and discriminatory, and they passed the bill. Blaming Charlotte just made them look silly.
After the November election, Republicans realized the law played a big role in costing them the gubernatorial and attorney general elections. They needed to get out from under it. Roy Cooper helped broker a deal that would have put the matter behind them before the 2017 legislative session began. Charlotte rescinded their ordinance and the legislature was supposed to repeal HB2. Unfortunately, the GOP couldn’t hold its caucuses together so they reneged on their end of the bargain.
Since the legislative session began, Phil Berger has been saying that it’s Roy Cooper’s job to offer a compromise bill to end HB2. It’s another attempt at passing the buck. The party of personal responsibility doesn’t want to take responsibility for its own actions.
Even though Cooper had no obligation to respond to Berger’s request, he called their bluff. Republicans claim that HB2 is not about discrimination but about protecting women and children in bathrooms. So, Cooper offered a compromise that would remove the discriminatory parts of the bill while adding real protections to women and children by stiffening penalties for assaults in bathrooms and locker rooms. But the GOP rejected the deal because their caucus won’t buy it.
For the second time in two months, Republicans asked for a compromise and got one. Both times, they’ve been unable to get the votes they need to pass it. All they’ve done is reinforce that HB2 is their problem and the damage is their fault.
The whole debacle lays bare some political truths.
First, the Republican House and Senate caucuses are held hostage by their right flanks. Members are more scared of primaries from their right flanks than about costing the state thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. That’s the epitome of putting politics before people.
Second, HB2 really is about discrimination, not protecting women and children. Berger makes clear that he’s more interested in denying transgender people access to public restrooms than resolving the issue.
Third, Dan Forest has more influence than any lieutenant governor since Jimmy Green. He’s leading the fight against any repeal and, so far, his side is winning.
And finally, right now, Roy Cooper is eating the GOP’s lunch. He’s showing a willingness to compromise and gaining support from the media and business leaders. He’s making sure the blame for fallout over HB2 stays with the legislature.