Politics is ugly and the bill that passed as a repeal of HB2 was proof. That said, it also helped the state move forward. The interest groups on both sides are vowing to keep the issue alive but they won’t be able to keep the momentum. Most of the state is just tired of hearing about it.
On the left, the Human Rights Campaign called on businesses and sporting events to keep up the boycott. They’re angry at Governor Roy Cooper and the Democrats who supported the bill. Several folks on social media are calling for primaries. One group planned an “airhorn orchestra” at the Governor’s Mansion. It’s the same protest they used against Pat McCrory.
On the right, the Values Coalition and Lt. Governor Dan Forest defended the law to the end. In their minds, HB2 was a good law that should stay on the books. Forest even went to Texas to urge that state to pass a similar law.
To hear some folks tell it, the repeal bill did little. That’s not true. It restores protections to workers and the LGBT community that HB2 took away. It also gives local governments more control over their relationships with contractors doing business with them.
Fifteen of the 16 local nondiscrimination ordinances that were in place prior to passing HB2 are back in effect. Charlotte’s ordinance is not because they repealed their NDO in the botched deal in December. Second, the bill allows transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice until the NCGA says otherwise. That’s the way most states operate–with no regulations. Third, local governments can require contractors to offer their employees to offer the same protections offered to government employees. Fourth, local governments can require contractors to set their minimum wages to mirror those of the local government.
The new bill bans new local nondiscrimination ordinances and prevents changes to ones in place for almost four more years. That our state legislative leaders would prevent local governments from offering protections for LGBT citizens is shameful. It’s bullying and more heavy-handed government from the party that claims to believe in less government.
The whole episode illustrates how much work needs to be done in North Carolina beyond state government. Only sixteen municipalities and counties have instituted nondiscrimination ordinances. How many of the other counties and towns in the state offer the protections available to their employees? Activists should be pressuring those governments to act now while the spotlight is hot.
Critics complain the deadline set by the NCAA spurred the sides to action. Loss of championship games certainly figured into the calculation but once the deadline passed, the urgency for action would have likely faded. We could well have settled into the situation South Carolina faced with its flag controversy.
Beginning in 2000, the NCAA and numerous businesses and conferences boycotted South Carolina because of its insistence on flying the Confederate battle flag on the state capitol grounds. While the initial debate drew national attention and riled protesters on both sides, the boycott and the flag stayed in place for fifteen years. Except for the occasional news story, there was little notice except among the activists who wanted the flag gone. It took a massacre to bring it down.
Politically, HB2 would likely have lost its punch once the high-profile deadlines passed. In the districts where Democrats need to win, the law doesn’t seem much of a factor anyway. It certainly didn’t sway voters in 2016 and it would probably have less impact in 2018. Cooper’s victory came because of a surge in urban areas, most of which now have protections again.
The compromise was painful and hurtful. The Democratic legislators I talked to struggled mightily. It was a very tough vote for people who voted for it and against it. To argue that the new law didn’t go far enough is fair, but to say it changed nothing is dishonest. People who live in places where nondiscrimination ordinances were passed now have those protections in place once again. Transgender people can use the bathroom of their choice. Local governments can force contractors to offer protections to their employees. That’s better than where we were when we woke up yesterday.
Until the rest of the bill is repealed, progress should come from pushing for protections for employees of local governments who don’t currently have them. If personnel policies can be changed in those areas, maybe legislators can be changed, too. That’s what it will take to enact the statewide nondiscrimination protections that our citizens deserve.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >