The bathroom part of the so-called “bathroom bill” has so far dominated the conversation of North Carolina’s House Bill 2. But some Johnston County elected leaders worry about what the bill might mean for local government authority.
Earlier this year, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance allowing transgender residents to use public bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. North Carolina Republicans, including Gov. Pat McCrory swiftly condemned the move, leading to a General Assembly special session two weeks ago in which the legislature reversed Charlotte’s ordinance and barred local governments from enacting their own nondiscrimination laws.
The bill also put in place a statewide nondiscrimination policy, but gay and transgender protections aren’t among those listed.
With an all-Republican Board of Commissioners, Johnston County is about as red as counties come in North Carolina. Still, leaders here are unsettled by the moves in Raleigh. Commissioner Chad Stewart called it a double-edged sword and an instance of overreach.
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“I don’t believe in transgender bathrooms, and I don’t believe in taking in Syrian refugees; I’m with the governor on that,” Stewart said.
“Obviously, I feel smaller, localized governments can make decisions that are most appropriate or matter most to their constituent. We know what our constituents want more than higher levels of government.”
“So I think it’s disheartening,” Stewart said of the General Assembly overturning the Charlotte ordinance. “It was Charlotte’s decision, and I don’t think higher levels of government should override local governments that pay closer attention to what citizens want.
“That being said, I don’t agree with transgender bathrooms. I don’t like overreach, but I don’t like what Charlotte did either.”
Board of Commissioners Chairman Tony Braswell took a similar stance. He said he didn’t know of anyone in his circle who supported Charlotte’s ordinance, but he thinks the General Assembly overreacted and local governments could end up suffering.
“I think it’s a threat on local government,” Braswell said. “It’s overreach; it’s poorly drafted. I think the General Assembly rushed into it. I thought it was bad legislation out of Charlotte, but you can’t fix one problem and create a mountain of others.”
Along with Braswell and McCrory, Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod stood on a stage this week and christened Novo Nordisk’s $1.8 billion insulin-manufacturing plant. He counted North Carolina’s diversity among its strengths, geographically as well as culturally, and he worries HB2 could derail the state’s progress.
“North Carolina’s diversity, its landscape, from the mountains to the Piedmont to the coast, as well as its people, has made us such a drawing card,” McLeod said. “And now people are saying not to go there.”
McLeod met with McCrory during the week of the special session as a member of North Carolina’s League of Municipalities and said the issue of state overreach came up. Given his political background as a former Charlotte mayor, McCrory understood the league’s concerns, but only to a point, McLeod said.
“The General Assembly has been brutal to towns and cities,” he said. “Not only in taking away authority to decide what works in our towns, but taking away funding and changing privilege licenses. There have been ginormous increases in the amount of power the General Assembly takes over local governments, with many instances of having a negative effect on towns and cities across North Carolina.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson