For the last two weeks, every morning has seemed to bring another blow: another protest, another denunciation or proposed boycott, another city or state travel ban, another business reconsidering its multimillion-dollar investment, another entertainment company abandoning us for more tolerant climes, another sports event mulling pulling out, another news report that the state has put at risk billions of dollars in much-needed federal aid.
It suffices to say that House Bill 2, the anti-LGBTQ legislation the General Assembly rammed through and Governor McCrory signed March 23, has devastated North Carolina’s brandthat is, a lighthouse of tolerance in the anti-intellectual, Bible-thumping void of the Deep South. The McCrory administration immediately went on the defensive, blaming the media for the outrage and outright lying about the obvious fact that HB 2 strips the state’s citizens of existing rightsnot just gay and transgender people, but also workers and anyone who suffers workplace discrimination.
But by last week, the governor’s dam of defiance began showing signs of cracking, which was predictable enough. A year ago, after all, the conservative governor and legislature of Indiana backed down after protests over its anti-LGBTQ legislation, and last month the Republican governor of Georgia vetoed a similar bill under similar pressure. McCrory, a little slow on the uptake, came to realize that when he signed HB 2, he might have signed his political death warrantunless, of course, he could do something to soften his image.
And so last Tuesday he released a video in which he insisted, “This is not about demonizing one group of people,” and said he was open to “new ideas and solutions” to “make this bill better in the future.”
The legislature’s Republicans, on the other hand, seem determined to ride out the gathering storm. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger’s office told the media that he had no interest in revisiting the law. Representative Paul Stam, a powerful Apex Republican, told The News & Observer he might tweak one technical aspect. Other than that, though, “We’re not going to change the policy of the law.”
There are, to my mind, two factors at play here: the first is the simple fact that most of the economic damage HB 2 inflicts will be on the state’s urban centers, especially the Triangle and Charlotte. And while those metros are powering both the state’s economic and population growththey account for two-thirds of all new residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureauthey are not the places from which the legislature’s Republicans derive their power. In fact, the General Assembly has been openly hostile to local governments in recent years.
Put simply, the Republicans can afford to let Wake or Durham to take a hit; Wake and Durham won’t vote for them anyway.
And that leads to the second point. As Common Cause North Carolina points out, thanks to the state’s partisan gerrymander, nine out of ten lawmakers who supported the bill are running unopposed or won their previous election by a landslide.
Which is to say: McCrory might notice your outrage. But the guys on Jones Street don’t have toand, unless they want to save the governor’s bacon, they’ve got little incentive to back down now.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Won’t Back Down”