Fear of Democracy

by | Feb 27, 2017 | Carolina Strategic Analysis, Features, HB2, LGBT Rights | 7 comments

The latest HB 2 compromise bill – probably the most promising one ever in its potential to win Republican votes – is going nowhere. The sticking point? Democrats are opposed to the referendum portion of the bill, where non-discrimination ordinances have to be ratified by the voters before becoming effective. This provision was added to allay Republican fears about cities going rogue and passing whatever creative non-discrimination ordinances they can concoct.

The first argument from liberals against the referendum provision is that “we don’t put civil rights on the ballot.” In other words, the majority should never get to decide what the rights of a minority group are, ever – they shouldn’t even be up for debate.

That is all well and good – if we had a divine instruction manual that defined what those basic civil rights are. As it is, we lack such a manual. Hence, we must debate what civil rights are, and ultimately those rights become recognized as the result of a vote – cast by either the people as a whole, or a legislative body, or elites in black robes. There is no getting around it.

Opposition to the referendum component of HB 186 is based on fear – fear of democracy. There is a perception that having referendums would be akin to throwing the rights of transgender people to the wolves. But the “rights” that are the focus of such concern are not recognized by the state. From the point of view of a transgender activist, no setback is possible as a result of a referendum. Either rights and freedoms are extended, or there is no change. HB 186 at least allows the possibility of “progress.” The status quo does not.

Next, there is the argument that holding referendums on LGBT rights will lead to more bad headlines for the state. This is not a very convincing argument – government exists to safeguard the interests of the people, not to generate favorable headlines from elite media outlets. If a (statewide) Charlotte-style bathroom ordinance had been passed into law fifteen years ago, no doubt the media coverage would be generally unfavorable. But this would not have dissuaded the LGBT rights activists – nor should it have. So the “bad press coverage” argument fails, even if we accept the conclusion of their argument. Take the example of Houston, which rejected an anti-discrimination ordinance back in 2015. Yet, all things considered, Houston is doing very well economically, despite the scorn from the liberal press.

Finally, it is argued that, a favorable outcome or not, referendums would result in bitter, emotional campaigns that needlessly divide the state. Yes, the Amendment One campaign was divisive and emotionally charged. But there’s a reason for that: gay marriage is an emotionally charged issue. The same goes for transgender individuals in bathrooms. HB 186 takes the bathroom issue off the table. What is left? Mostly, anti-discrimination ordinances targeting transgender discrimination in employment and housing.

These are hardly emotionally charged issues, and we should hardly expect them to be the focus of an emotionally charged campaign. Maybe liberals see our cities as full of people who will erupt in white hot anger at the prospect of equal employment rights for transgenders. Maybe, but I doubt it. I have a little more faith in the people. And even if some of these referendums are voted down, a bitter, divisive campaign is unlikely. The bottom line: outside of gay marriage and bathrooms, people don’t care all that much.

Finally, this ignores the fact that our cities are filled to the brim with liberals who are more than happy to extend LGBT rights in their municipality. Without the bathroom hurdle (as was present in Houston), these measures should receive overwhelming support from the cosmopolitans. Raleigh, Charlotte, Durham, Chapel Hill, Asheville, Wilmington – all of these cities could ratify pro-LGBT ordinances in November 2018. That should generate glowing reports from the New York Times and the Washington Post. The coverage will be all the more favorable because it reflects the will of the people and not just the preferences of a majority of the City Council.

In the final analysis, the question is this: do you favor the potential of extending LGBT rights in some parts of the state, or do you prefer the status quo? There is no third option. A clean repeal of HB 2 is unrealistic – not when Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature. Frankly, there is little need for them to float a compromise at all.

It appears that Roy Cooper and other progressives have made up their minds – that the status quo is preferable. In this, they and the Right are in full agreement.


  1. A.D. Reed

    I note that Mr. Wynne is “the conservative voice” of Politics NC. How well he does his job! He is a model, and ideal, a perfect “conservative” voice expressing conservative “logic.”

    Republicans, who have spent six years suppressing the vote and disenfranchising tens of thousands in NC and millions across the country; who have passed uncounted laws denying the rights of cities and states — and their residents — to vote on issues that affect them, and only them; who have refused even to meet with their Democratic counterparts to discuss legislation, preferring to hold midnight sessions during which brand-new bills, never before seen by anyone but their authors and the majority leaders of their party, are “debated” for three to five minutes only among GOP members and then voted on in a 2-minute process during which Democratic legislators are told that they can read the bill after the vote, after it’s posted online in the state archives … these people are the champions of democracy, and Democrats fear it?

    Mr. Wynne must drink the juice that Mitch McConnell expectorates into the U.S. Senate spittoon; that’s the only thing that could make him this stoned.

  2. Fetzer Mills Jr

    This isn’t something to be voted on. The Constitution does not recognize a state religion and the objections to LGBTQ equality are religious in nature. The founders established a Republican form of government to prevent “a tyranny of the majority”. It also flies in the face of other founding documents like the Declaration of Independence. The NC legislature is anti-American in the most fundamental ways.

  3. Apply Liberally

    I think the time has come.

    The NCGOP could have repealed HB2 in December if they had simply held up their part of the deal with Charlotte. But they reneged (and used that special session to weaken the governor’s power instead). Since then, they have rejected Cooper’s proposed compromise, and the one GOP “repeal” bill now being vetted is a complicated mess designed to save the GOP’s face but still stifling civil rights and local ordinances.

    Yes, the time has come. The Governor and all NCGA Democrats should walk away from the negotiation table.

    The NCGOP owns this very negative law, and it has a super-majority in both houses of the NCGA. It can repeal or replace or “repair” HB2, any way it sees fit, in a matter of hours.

    Let Republicans fix this awful piece of legislation. THEMSELVES.
    If they do, great.
    If they don’t, it’ll be sad, but so be it. NC’s economy and image will continue to suffer. and the state will remain a pariah among states.
    But everyone will know whose broken law it is that had such harsh impacts, and also who failed to fix it when they could have in a legislative heartbeat.

  4. Troy

    “A clean repeal of HB 2 is unrealistic – not when Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature. Frankly, there is little need for them to float a compromise at all.”

    I think you’re on to something, albeit unintentionally John. We’re all stocked up on crazy in the legislature.

    That being said, you’re right; why should expect the Republicans in the legislature to do what it is they said they would do. Repeal HB2 when Charlotte repealed it’s ‘offensive’ and precipitating ordinance. So much for the honor and respect of giving one’s word to do something when they say they are going to do something. Least ways, when it comes to doing something sensible that is.

  5. Jay Ligon

    “..government exists to safeguard the interests of the people, not to generate favorable headlines from elite media outlets.”

    Put down the bong, John! You must be smoking some funny tobacco over there. If the legislature only did what was in the interest of the people, the courts would never have anything to do.

    Instead, this legislature has been extremely busy eliminating the rights of wide swaths of the North Carolina electorate. The Republicans have taken away the vote, concocted absurd toilet laws and tried to declare a state religion and prayer. The “elite” media can read the Constitution unlike our Republicans in the legislature.

    When your party does everything in its power to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters and attempts to shut down polling places, that’s a fear of democracy. Do you really believe that civil rights are a photo op? Was the Brown decision about getting favorable publicity from the New York Times?

    You are out of your mind.

  6. Progressive Wing

    Oh, puleeze.

    Just like your fellow Republicans in the NCGA, Mr. Wynne. you can’t help but place blame on others for mess created by HB2. Republicans continue to refuse to take the simplest path and just assign HB2 — a horrible, discriminatory bill that is costing NC half a billion in economic impacts — to the ash heap of history.

    It’s clear that the NCGOP doesn’t want a repeal of HB2, nor does it even want to repair it. It wants only to replace it with a complicated law that will (1) paint the GOP favorably, (2) will allow it to again and again trample local ordinances, and (3) will give it cover from its own Righteous Right and so-called “values” base. It’s all about Republicans being mischievous and Machiavellian once again. That’s “Machiavellian” as in placing political expediency over morality and using slight of hand and deceit to maintain power.

    Look. the NCGOP wholly owns this ridiculous law, and it should simply repeal it. Get rid of the damn thing so that its adverse effects on NC end, and so that the NBA, NCAA, businesses, convention-planning organizations, and entertainers feel they can return to and/or invest in the state again.

  7. Dr. Bourbon

    Possibly your best column yet John!

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