N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper told an audience of business leaders Thursday that House Bill 2 is what got him elected to the governor’s mansion last November, and vowed to fight the controversial law that has resulted in a slew of cancellations of conferences, concerts and corporate expansions.
Speaking at the state’s annual CEO Forum at Raleigh’s North Ridge Country Club, Cooper enlisted business leaders to use their political clout to convince the Republican-dominated legislature to repeal the 11-month old law known as HB2.
The law requires transgender people to use bathrooms on government property that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates and bars local governments from passing their own anti-discrimination laws. Supporters contend the law was necessary to block local laws like one in Charlotte that would have allowed people to use bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify, which the HB2 supporters say is a public-safety risk. Opponents see it as discriminatory.
“House Bill 2 is not who we are, and that is reflected in my election,” Cooper said. “I want you as businesses to help me fight it, get rid of it.”
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Cooper – a Democrat who was formerly the state’s Attorney General and refused to defend HB2 against legal challenges – was a keynote speaker kicking off the two-day symposium, dedicated this year to the theme of innovation and leadership in health care. Also speaking was Cooper’s newly appointed health secretary, Mandy Cohen, and a roster of health care executives.
“We don’t need House Bill 2 hanging around our necks,” Cooper said. “We need to have a vote ... to get rid of this thing, get it behind us, so when we’re recruiting we don’t have to spend the first 15 to 20 minutes of the conversation talking about how this is not who we are, and we are working on repealing it.”
Cooper said the GOP leaders in the state House and the Senate “want it gone,” but they face strong resistance from other Republican lawmakers.
After Cooper spoke, one local executive said HB2 does not fit with his company’s corporate culture. Jack Bailey, president of U.S. pharmaceuticals at GlaxoSmithKline, said his company has privately told lawmakers that the law is a problem.
“We want to operate in an environment that aligns with our values,” Bailey said. GSK employs about 3,400 in the Triangle.
Cooper also enlisted business executives on other priorities, such as raising salaries for public school teachers and principals.
“Do we continue to cut the corporate tax, to cut other taxes, or do we invest now in public education?” Cooper asked. “I need you, not just lip service, but to use your political capital to say, ‘OK, we’re in a pretty good place with taxes right now, let’s invest in public education.’ ”
Republicans have said the GOP-controlled legislature’s cuts to income tax rates have come at the same time as added funding for schools, and criticized Cooper for opposing further tax cuts.
The CEO Forum continues Friday with planned presentations from executives of Quintiles, WakeMed Health & Hospitals, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and others.