Republicans held onto their veto-proof majorities in the North Carolina General Assembly because voters cared more about the economy than they did about House Bill 2, according to House Speaker Tim Moore.
Republicans have controlled both chambers since 2011. During the 2015-16 legislative session, they controlled the Senate 34-16 and the House 74-45 with one GOP-leaning unaffiliated member. Tuesday night’s results left the Senate at 35-15 and the House at 74-46.
Relaxing in his office Wednesday after a long election night, Moore said his party had done a good job with its messaging. “Voters voted based on the economy,” Moore said. “I continue to believe that HB2 has been misrepresented by the left and the media and was blown out of proportion. At the end of the day, I believe voters saw that as well.”
The law passed in March forbid local governments from extending anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community and required people in government facilities to use bathrooms and changing rooms that match their birth certificate. Democrats cite the law as a reason Republican Gov. Pat McCrory trails his Democratic challenger, Roy Cooper, in early returns from Tuesday’s election.
Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, became speaker at the start of the 2015-2016 session, the youngest in a quarter-century. The 2016 election cycle was his first leading the House Republicans.
On election night Republicans lost four Raleigh- and Charlotte-area seats where HB2 appeared to be a factor.
Moore said the vast majority of House races were unaffected by the issue. He pointed to three crucial races in rural parts of the state where Republicans flipped Democrat-controlled seats.
In southeastern North Carolina’s District 46, including parts of Columbus, Robeson and Bladen counties, Republican Brenden Jones defeated Democrat Tim Benton to fill Democratic Rep. Ken Waddell’s seat.
In District 51 that includes parts of Harnett and Lee counties, Republican John Sauls unseated one-term Democratic Rep. Brad Salmon.
And in mountain District 119, Republican Mike Clampitt unseated two-term Democratic Rep. Joe Sam Queen. Queen previously served three Senate terms.
“HB2 didn’t factor in any of those races,” Moore said.
Republicans made sure another narrative was heard, he said. The voters “looked around and asked themselves which direction the economy had gone over the last four years,” Moore said. “They liked the direction and voted for us.”
Moore said House leadership also contributed to the success of Republican candidates. Last summer, just as campaigns began accelerating, the caucus experienced two key resignations — Majority Leader Mike Hager and conference leader Charles Jeter. In August, House Republicans elected Rep. John Bell of Wayne County as majority leader and Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County as conference leader.
“Rep. Bell and Rep. Szoka stepped in and did a fantastic job getting us into campaign mode,” Moore said.
While fundraising logistics were complicated, the argument was not, he said, and in the end business interests across North Carolina supported the conservative economic agenda the Republicans have implemented.