The General Assembly will return for a fifth special session Wednesday after a Monday morning vote by the Charlotte City Council repealing its bathroom ordinance that led to the adoption of House Bill 2.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory announced the session in a press release and video late Monday afternoon, capping a day in which McCrory’s successor, Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, erroneously announced the session would convene Tuesday and legislative leaders pounded Cooper for taking credit for brokering the deal.
After a months-long political firestorm during which the state’s national reputation was battered, big-ticket sports events and popular musicians pulled out of the state, and media stories claimed McCrory and Republican lawmakers stripped transgender rights when H.B. 2 merely restored the status quo, today’s developments left some political analysts wondering what purpose the controversy served.
Republicans immediately called Charlotte’s unexpected repeal of its nondiscrimination policy nothing more than political opportunism.
“This sudden reversal, with little notice after the gubernatorial election has ended, sadly proves this entire issue, originated by the political left, was all about politics at the expense of Charlotte and the entire state of North Carolina,” McCrory said in his video.
“Now that the Charlotte ordinance has been repealed, the expectation of privacy in our showers, bathrooms, and locker rooms is restored and protected under previous state law,” McCrory press secretary Graham Wilson said in a statement. “Gov. McCrory has always publicly advocated a repeal of the overreaching Charlotte ordinance. But those efforts were always blocked by [Charlotte Mayor] Jennifer Roberts, Roy Cooper, and other Democratic activists.”
After Charlotte repealed the ordinance Monday morning, Cooper swiftly went to his Facebook page to announce it.
He said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, “assured me that as a result of Charlotte’s vote, a special session will be called for Tuesday to repeal H.B. 2 in full. I hope they will keep their word to me, and with the help of Democrats in the legislature, H.B. 2 will be repealed in full.”
A repeal, Cooper said, “will help to bring jobs, sports and entertainment events back, and will provide the opportunity for strong LGBT protections in our state.”
But in a joint news release, Berger and Moore castigated Cooper for twisting the development to his benefit, and for jumping the gun on when a special session might be called.
“Today, Roy Cooper and Jennifer Roberts proved what we said was the case all along: Their efforts to force men into women’s bathrooms and shower facilities was a political stunt to drive out-of-state money into the governor’s race,” they said.
“For months we’ve said if Charlotte would repeal its bathroom ordinance that created the problem we would take up the repeal of H.B. 2. But Roy Cooper is not telling the truth about the legislature committing to call itself into session. We’ve always said that was Gov. McCrory’s decision, and if he calls us back, we will be prepared to act. For Cooper to say otherwise is a dishonest and disingenuous attempt to take credit.”
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, repeating Cooper’s misstep on a Tuesday special session, said Republican leadership has been “ineffective and reckless.”
“We are eager to work with Governor-elect Roy Cooper and members of the General Assembly to restore North Carolina’s reputation as a tolerant and welcoming state that is open for business to all people. House Bill 2 has plagued our state by promoting the wrong kind of values — these are not North Carolina’s values,” Blue said.
In a news release after its repeal vote, the Charlotte City Council said it recognized “the ongoing negative economic impact resulting from the passage of the city’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance and the state’s House Bill 2,” which pre-empted the city ordinance.
“In order to continue thriving as an inclusive community, and compete for high-paying jobs and world-class events, the city and state must take action together to restore our collective reputation,” the release said.
Bob Morgan, CEO and president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, commended the City Council’s action. “We encourage the North Carolina General Assembly to act promptly” to repeal H.B. 2, he said.
Some LGBT advocates told The Associated Press they were cautiously optimistic about a legislative repeal. They said antidiscrimination protection is still needed, and is more important than politics.
“LGBT rights aren’t a bargaining chip. Charlotte shouldn’t have had to repeal its ordinance in exchange for H.B. 2 to be repealed,” Simone Bell, the Southern regional director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement.
David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College, said he is struggling to determine what good came of the long-suffering battle over the H.B. 2 issue.
“The timing is confounding, the fact is that Charlotte, [which] had drawn the line in the sand for so long, was the first one to blink,” he said.
“I really can’t think of any winners. It doesn’t look like social conservatives in the state are going to feel like they won anything. It doesn’t look like the LGBT community won anything unless you’re a Democratic operative working for Roy Cooper saying, ‘We won what we wanted, the governorship,’” McLennan told Carolina Journal.
If the General Assembly repeals H.B. 2, that “may resolve some of the problems North Carolina faces. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the broader issue” of the LGBT community pushing an equality and civil rights agenda for transgenders, and social conservatives pushing back, McLennan said.
Members of the LGBT community are likely to remain aligned with Democrats even if they feel abandoned on this issue, “but they could put a lot of pressure on someone like Roy Cooper,” McLennan said.
Their leverage, McLennan said, is to threaten to become “a nonvoting entity, or someone who turns out against you. We helped you, so you owe us.”
He noted that a special session still has not been called, no repeal legislation has been drafted, and Charlotte inserted “a poison pill” in its ordinance repeal resolution that its action would be void if the state does not repeal H.B. 2 in its entirety.
It is unclear how McCrory and the General Assembly might react to that provision, because H.B. 2 also includes a section preventing local governments from implementing a mandatory minimum wage.