When it comes to House Bill 2, legislative Republicans are absolutely hapless.
Last March, Republicans conceived HB2, the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, as a wedge issue against gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper and other Democrats.
When Republicans realized this, they claimed that Cooper and the Charlotte City Council had set a trap, the council passing the ordinance that triggered the ill-conceived HB 2 and all of the resulting national business backlash.
If Cooper did set that trap, it was the most clever political move he’s ever made. If he set the next trap that Republicans fell into, then he deserves the Nobel Prize for Machiavellian Science.
Cooper announced Dec. 18 that he had brokered a deal with House and Senate leaders to repeal HB2. If the Charlotte City Council would repeal its original ordinance, then the legislature would repeal HB 2 and both the ACC and NCAA would like us again.
In announcing the deal, Cooper looked like a can-do governor, a problem solver, a bipartisan fixer, even high-minded after the Republican legislature had eviscerated his powers the week before. What a mensch.
Republicans then fell into the next trap, which probably was not consciously set by the Democrats. They reneged on the deal, claiming they couldn’t trust the city council and that Democrats had undermined the agreement.
Even in this post-facts era, their arguments don’t hold up. By the time the legislative session opened, the council had repealed all provisions that Republicans wanted repealed, and legislative Republicans didn’t need a single Democratic vote to pass the repeal. They have veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
The truth here is that the extreme wing of the GOP, the one that really believes that cross-dressers are stalking ladies’ restrooms and that HB2 is needed, didn’t want to repeal the bill. They like it, and they delight in how it upsets their culture-war enemies.
Now, instead of hearing that sports leagues and top-flight entertainment acts are re-scheduling appearances for 2017, we hear that the NAACP is considering a national economic boycott of North Carolina. The mess remains and just keeps getting deeper, and there’s no one to blame but legislative Republicans.
Why legislative Republicans? Because even if the Democrats did bamboozle them, they fell for it. Remember the old saying: “Fool (trap) me once, shame on you. Fool (trap) me twice, shame on me.”
But, honestly, who thinks the Democrats are smart enough to set these traps? They just ran a presidential candidate who got 3 million more votes than a reality TV star and still didn’t get elected.
With HB2 still on the books, Cooper and state Democrats have a club with which to hammer Republicans for the 10 months leading up to next fall’s legislative elections, the elections ordered by a federal court that found racial gerrymandering in the Republican redistricting plan of 2011.
Look for Gov. Roy Cooper, the problem solver, the bipartisan fixer, out on the campaign trail asking voters to “give me strength,” just as former Gov. Jim Martin did in the 1980s, when he faced a hostile legislature.
In the 2017 legislative elections campaigns, Republicans have just handed back to Democrats the club Cooper used to win the governorship. That’s the definition of hapless.
Paul T. O’Connor has covered state government for 38 years.