Pat McCrory was a little late on the draw with his Executive Order. Had he vetoed HB2 and issued the order, he probably could have looked like the leader he would like to be. Instead, the political rhetoric is far too heated and the battle lines are too established for the order to have much effect on the debate.
McCrory’s order may have some merits, but opponents have already set the bar at full repeal. The order gives protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity to state employees but doesn’t mandate those protections in the private sector or give local governments the authority to do so. It also doesn’t allow victims of discrimination to seek damages in court or address the totally unrelated provision that prevents local governments from raising the minimum wage.
McCrory’s response isn’t going to stop the firestorm around HB2 but, to the outside world, it will make him look like the more reasonable of the GOP leaders. Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger doubled down on the rhetoric of the right-wing culture warriors, still blaming the debacle on “…Roy Cooper and his left-wing political correctness mob with their agenda-driven allies in the liberal media, who will never stop trashing North Carolina until they achieve their goal of allowing any man into any women’s bathroom or locker room at any time simply by claiming to feel like a woman.”
At one time, Berger was described by that same liberal media as “a serious elected official with ambition and vision.” After his last two statements on HB2, that description no longer fits. He’s now North Carolina’s version of Donald Trump.
To his partisans, Berger looks like a hero. He’s standing up to the Democrats, the lame stream media, the corporate bozos, the gays, and cross-dressing pedophiles lurking in bathrooms. They’ll give up a few hundred jobs and a few million dollars in revenue if Berger can protect their way of life and their disappearing world view. Besides, Deutsche Bank and PayPal weren’t coming to their part of the world anyway and Bruce Springsteen certainly wasn’t playing the high school gym.
However, Berger and his culture warriors are staking out dangerous political ground. They long ago lost control of the message. HB2 is not a bathroom bill anymore. People understand that the General Assembly overreached and made the issue about broader discrimination. A WRAL poll shows support for the bill at only 38% while 61% believe the law has hurt the state, even though a majority supports the bathroom provision. Berger is pandering to a shrinking portion of the population at a time when Republicans need desperately to broaden their appeal.
With the legislature coming back into session in less than two weeks, House Bill 2 is not going away. Berger is clearly hunkering down on his position while Rev. William Barber announced plans for sit-ins by the Moral Monday movement if the legislature doesn’t repeal it. McCrory just wants it to go away. He doesn’t want to be talking about social issues heading into a statewide election but he doesn’t want to get crosswise with his base, either. His executive order wasn’t a bad idea politically. It was just too little, too late.
Thomas Mills is the Founder and Publisher of PoliticsNC.com, a website of commentary and analysis.