Apr
13

Springtime for Pat

By

Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina

Oh, those Producers. It’s springtime in Raleigh. Just not for Pat McCrory. When last we saw North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory he was backpedaling on House Bill 2 (HB2).

Critics now call the so-called “bathroom bill” aimed at his gay and transgender constituents a radical Trojan Horse for eliminating anti-discrimination protections in the workplace. Since McCrory signed the bill passed during a one-day, special session Republicans called in March, prominent businesses began boycotting the state, canceling expansions and conventions there, and national performers such as Bruce Springsteen began canceling concert dates. Projected job losses number well over 1,000. Revenue losses have not been calculated. It’s almost as if … they designed HB2 to fail.

Nah.

The national and international backlash forced McCrory yesterday to sign an executive order aimed at quelling the controversy over the bill he signed just weeks ago:

McCrory said he was expanding protections for state employees, which would prevent these workers from being fired for being gay or transgender. He also said he would seek legislation restoring the right to sue for discrimination.

In his order, McCrory stopped short of altering the bill’s most high-profile provision mandating that transgender people use bathrooms that correspond only with the gender on their birth certificate.

McCrory defended the state law as being needed to respond to what he called the “government overreach” of a Charlotte city ordinance that expanded civil rights protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In a videotaped message announcing the order, he said the issue had sparked what he called “selective outrage and hypocrisy.”

With his executive order, McCrory will try to position himself as the sane one in Raleigh, a rose among thorns. He faces reelection this fall.

Moral Monday leader and state NAACP president Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II called the law “Hate Bill 2” in a statement released on Monday:

The legislation has very little to do with restrooms and much to do with our need to prevent this immoral attempt to legislate a wide array of unconstitutional discrimination and hatred which we find when we read the fine print beneath these homophobic scare tactics.

Barber refers to language buried in the bill, as ProPublica explains:

… Tucked inside is language that strips North Carolina workers of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, a right that has been upheld in court since 1985. “If you were fired because of your race, fired because of your gender, fired because of your religion,” said Allan Freyer, head of the Workers’ Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh, “… you no longer have a basic remedy.”

“The LGBT issues were a Trojan horse,” added Erika Wilson, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who co-directs a legal clinic for low-income plaintiffs with job and housing discrimination claims. The broader change hasn’t received much attention, she said, because “people were so caught up in [the LGBT] part of the law that this snuck under the radar.”

Conservative-leaning groups have been trying for decades to reduce the number of civil lawsuits in the states. In HB2, lawmakers accomplished this by adding a single sentence to the state’s employment discrimination law that says: “[No] person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.”

Writing for the Atlantic, David Graham ponders the political impact on McCrory:

The political effects of McCrory’s order also remain to be seen. There were indications that the governor had misgivings about the law from the start. A former mayor of Charlotte, he had previously criticized state interference in local affairs, declined to call a legislative special session, and said any state action should be narrowly tailored to reversing the Charlotte ordinance. But once the General Assembly called itself back into session, McCrory bowed to the veto-proof conservative Republican supermajority and quickly signed the law, then staunchly defended it.

The law, and the backlash to it, has become a risk to McCrory’s reelection bid, in part because it endangers his attempt to portray himself as a technocratic, pro-business moderate. He’ll face off in November against state Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, who has called for HB2’s repeal and refused to defend the law in court. The N&O speculates that McCrory’s language in the order expanding protection for sexual orientation and gender identity may be aimed at undermining Cooper’s rationale for refusing to defend the law.

The thing to remember about Republicans is they do nothing that’s not at least a twofer. HB2 looks like an attempt to a) generate a hot-button issue to drive its white bread voters to the polls, b) trap Democrats (and Cooper) into coming to the defense of an “icky” minority (as comedian John Fugelsang puts it), and c) give business patrons immunity from lawsuits for acting like jerks. It’s just too early to tell whether any or all of those efforts have backfired.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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