Incoming governor Roy Cooper is claiming victory in North Carolina’s political fight over bathrooms, but the city of Charlotte blinked first. After passing laws forcing businesses to allow transgender people access to any bathroom they chose, North Carolina’s legislature passed HB2, which set access policy at the state rather than local level for the private sector. The fight over bathroom access became a national story and was a significant contributing factor in outgoing governor Pat McCrory’s loss last month.
Now that the election’s over, Charlotte has voted to repeal its ordinance after all:
Cooper’s announcement today came after the Charlotte City Council met this morning and voted 10-0 to rescind its local LGBT ordinance that led to HB2, The Charlotte Observer reported.
“Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore assured me that as a result of Charlotte’s vote, a special session will be called for Tuesday to repeal HB2 in full,” Cooper said in a statement today. “I hope they will keep their word to me and with the help of Democrats in the legislature, HB2 will be repealed in full. Full repeal will help to bring jobs, sports and entertainment events back and will provide the opportunity for strong LGBT protections in our state.”
It’s not Cooper calling the special session either — it’s McCrory, to fulfill his pledge to repeal the bill as soon as Charlotte backed down. Before the election, Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts declared the ordinance non-negotiable. Now, however, there’s room to bargain, as the Charlotte Observer notes:
Roberts on Monday was in the difficult position of defending the repeal. She said the vote “should in no way be viewed as a compromise of our principles or commitment to non-discrimination.”
But earlier this year, and as recently as last week, the mayor said that LGBT rights weren’t negotiable. Local and national gay rights organizations had also adamantly opposed a symbolic repeal vote. The Human Rights Campaign said earlier this month that there should be no compromise between the city and the state.
Why was this non-negotiable then, when McCrory was willing to work with Charlotte, but suddenly such a reasonable option that the city council voted unanimously to adopt it? The conclusion seems obvious — the nonsensical fight over bathroom access served its purpose. Democrats and their activist allies got McCrory voted out of office and one of their own installed in his place. Roberts’ potential opponent in the next mayoral contest denounced the machinations:
Republican council member Kenny Smith, who is considering running for mayor, said after Monday’s vote that the Democratic-controlled council was “playing politics” with the decision. He said the same deal has been available for months, but that council members waited until Republican Pat McCrory lost the governor’s election to Cooper.
One has to wonder whether they would have gotten this deal at all after Cooper took office. North Carolina Republicans have been bitter about the outcome of the gubernatorial election, so much so that they’ve engaged in some questionable “reforms” in the lame-duck session over the last couple of weeks. Having McCrory call the session might have been the only way to get the GOP to go along at this point.
McCrory’s team didn’t hide their own displeasure over the sequence of events:
A statement this morning from McCrory’s press secretary, Graham Wilson, said, “As promised, Governor McCrory will call a special session.”
“Governor 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,” Wilson said. “This sudden reversal with little notice after the gubernatorial election sadly proves this entire issue originated by the political left was all about politics and winning the governor’s race at the expense of Charlotte and our entire state.”
Democrats are still coming away with the W, but perhaps coming out tarnished as a result. They obstinately refused the reasonable compromise they’re now accepting, with the delay costing North Carolina businesses millions of dollars unnecessarily. Roberts might not pay a price for this political exploitation, but Democrats might — and suddenly those changes to gubernatorial power don’t seem quite so unprovoked.