Since taking control of the state House and Senate in 2011, Republicans on Jones Street have weathered their fair share of criticism – and that might be the understatement of the decade.
They’ve been deemed heartless. They’ve been called racists, bigots and homophobes.
They’ve endured sit-ins and die-ins and pray-ins. They’ve put up with loud banging and yelling outside the House and Senate chambers while in session. They’ve witnessed hundreds of arrests of protesters in and around the Legislative Building.
They received hand-delivered petition after hand-delivered petition. It would be impossible to estimate how many disgruntled callers they’ve picked up the phone to hear.
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They’ve become the butt of jokes of late-night talk show hosts and comedians. They’ve read hundreds, if not thousands, of negative editorials from around the country on various issues.
But through it all, they’ve largely remained unfazed, barely retreating an inch. When they have, it’s been the result of a court ruling or by making a tweak in a law to address unintended or unforeseen consequences. Also, at times, lawmakers have watered down controversial legislation as it moved through the legislative process.
In the face of fierce opposition, these Republicans have resisted the expansion of Medicaid, retained the voter ID law, barred cities from collecting certain types of revenue and kept on the books the repeal of the earned income tax credit and the lessening of unemployment benefits. They’ve loosened gun and environmental restrictions and legalized fracking.
They’ve stood strong on those issues and others, and, in many instances, fought back aggressively against their critics.
But the backlash they’re receiving as a result of House Bill 2 is unprecedented, even for this group that has stomached so much. It’s gone viral. It’s gone worldwide. And it’s hitting the state they’re leading where it counts – the pocketbook.
As the General Assembly session begins, Republicans can expect more name-calling and protests and arrests and petitions and phone calls. They’ve seen all of that before.
What they haven’t seen during the past five years are significant economic consequences as a result of their actions. But the monetary cost is mounting because of HB2 at a time when the Republican governor, up for re-election in November, is trying to tout a “Carolina Comeback.”
Corporations have nixed expansion plans in the state. Conferences, concerts and other entertainment events have been canceled. Tourists and film-production companies are going elsewhere. The NBA is threatening to move its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte if changes aren’t made or HB2 repealed. Estimates on the total economic impact range from the tens of millions to the hundreds of millions of dollars.
As they get back to work in Raleigh, legislators have four choices on HB2. They can do nothing; modify it slightly and appease almost no one; modify it significantly and quiet some opponents; or repeal it.
While this is the biggest test they’ve had to date, my guess is General Assembly Republicans will do one of the first two.
Recent statements by top legislative leaders suggest they’re not going to give in to the pressure.
They don’t have a history of backing down.
Patrick Gannon is the editor of The Insider State Government News Service in Raleigh. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.