One of the many repercussions of HB2, the sweeping anti-LGBT bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in March, is that it has forced McCrory to finally take a side in the debate about North Carolina’s future.
Would he try to cling to his carefully crafted and misleading image as the moderate former mayor of the state’s largest city? Or would he fully embrace the far-right agenda of the legislative leaders of his own party who are remaking the state not only by slashing funding for schools and human services to pay for tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy but also fighting the religious culture wars against women’s access to reproductive health care and gay rights?
McCrory hasn’t done much in the last four years to stand up to the draconian agenda passed by the General Assembly, signing legislation restricting access to abortion after promising during his campaign that he wouldn’t and signing budgets that have cut taxes by billions of dollars after initially demanding that any tax reform be revenue neutral so schools and state services could be adequately funded.
McCrory signed a sweeping voter suppression bill too, though in interviews shortly after didn’t seem to fully grasp what he had done. But through it all, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, he kept claiming to be a centrist of sorts, often reminding the media that he was “stepping on the toes of the right and the left.”
Then came HB2, a bill that’s about a lot more than bathrooms and draws a clear and unmistakable line. It voids a Charlotte ordinance passed by the duly elected city council that protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment and public accommodations and it bans any other city from protecting them either.
It removes the rights of workers illegally fired because of their race or religion or natural origin from suing in state court. Mississippi is the only other state that does this. And it forbids cities from passing living wage ordinances.
HB2 also establishes a new statewide nondiscrimination standard that does not include sexual orientation or gender identity and unlike most other states, includes the phrase “biological sex” instead of “sex” to make sure it is clear that the law does not protect LGBT people from discrimination.
Gov. McCrory signed the sweeping bill hours after the General Assembly passed it in a rushed one-day special session and at first seemed surprised by the outrage that erupted, corporations cancelling planned expansions in the state and performers like Bruce Springsteen canceling North Carolina shows to protest the new law.
McCrory began to awkwardly duck the media and his staff and his supporters began attacking the same corporate leaders who weeks before they were praising for being the kind of companies he wanted in the state.
As the economic damage to North Carolina continued to mount and internal polls showed their support of HB2 was hurting Republican prospects in the November elections, talk of compromise began behind the scenes at the General Assembly, with legislative leaders trying to cut their losses and come up with a face-saving way to repeal the law.
McCrory reportedly wasn’t involved much in the discussions and it showed, as his increasingly strident rhetoric made talks to change it more difficult, most notably an unsteady performance before the N.C Chamber.
Then came the letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, giving the state five days to respond to charges that HB2 violated the Civil Rights Act and put billions of dollars in federal funding at risk.
The letter in many ways crystallized McCrory’s choices, work with the federal government to seek a delay in any sanctions and join the talks to change or repeal HB2 to rebuild North Carolina’s image, or join the battle fully as a culture warrior, standing in the way of what U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch aptly described as state-sponsored discrimination.
McCrory chose the latter, filing a ridiculous lawsuit and appearing on several national talk shows to defend it, including several on Fox News where he repeatedly made false statements about the law and the people who oppose it.
It’s not just the radical left or the Hollywood elites as McCrory alleges. It is prominent business leaders in Charlotte that McCrory knows well, even some people that helped him in his campaign who understand that discrimination is bad for business.
McCrory even went on the Mark Levin radio program. Levin is a fiery homophobic extremist who has compared marriage equality to polygamy and incest and said President Obama is the gravest threat to Jews since the 1930s.
That is the sort of company McCrory is keeping. He is all in, the face of the forces fighting mightily to keep discrimination in place in the state he leads.
So much for the façade of the moderate mayor. He’s a far-right culture warrior now.
Chris Fitzsimon is the founder and executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.