It isn’t often that a major piece of legislation, passed by the current legislature and signed by the sitting governor, can find so little support by those who willed it into being. And yet, HB2, hailed as the necessary regulation of North Carolinians’ genitalia, finds itself just so maligned. Unfortunately, lack of support has not yet translated into the will to change it.
So reviled is HB2 that it seems to have two origin stories. In the first version, Gov. Pat McCrory spins the tale of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce and key legislative leaders sitting around a conference table in a smoky room, devising the onerous and unnecessary regulations on the bathroom habits of transgender North Carolinians. In this version, the governor is an unwitting accomplice, simply doing his job by allowing the end result of this backroom dealing to “protect” women and children from a fictional menace to become law. This protection just happened to drive a convenient wedge between the voters of our fair state and split them into convenient political piles.
For its part, the NC Chamber vehemently denies this series of events and claims instead that it was uninvolved in crafting this legislation and is, instead, unwilling scapegoats of an increasingly desperate governor behind in the polls in an election year. This version of plausible deniability is tarnished by the chamber’s nearly monthlong period of deafening silence after the law’s passage, despite the dire economic predictions that it produced, and the growing chorus calling for the group to make a statement. Where the truth lies, it seems, is likely somewhere in the cavernous middle.
At the ballot box
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All of this may seem a silly game of insider baseball, but the fallout is all too real. While McCrory flounders, attempting to boost his sagging poll numbers by throwing anyone and everyone under the proverbial bus, he stubbornly refuses to take responsibility for the political debacle that is steadily eroding an already unstable Republican ticket. The down-ballot races are surely paying a price for his intransigence, and with absentee voting opening, the results will start to be felt at the ballot box shortly.
One politician who voted for HB2, state Sen. Tamara Barringer, is now coming out against the law. Apparently, she was for bigotry before she was against it, but at least she has the political instincts to know when to relent to public pressure.
Not that the state GOP seems able or willing to stem the bleeding, either. Its reaction to the NCAA decision to pull out of several events in North Carolina was ridiculous and rightly panned across the state, and the nation, as self-serving and inappropriate.
John Adams famously warned us against the inherent evils of a two-party system. “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” It is my humble apprehension that while we are most definitely divided into two great parties, it is not so much the measures in opposition that are crippling us, but rather the dearth of real political leadership therein.
What binds us together
There seems to be a time in every major election cycle when we, as an electorate, lose our collective minds and allow the parties to think for us. If only for a moment, we set aside the staggering majority of what binds us together for the small, but significant, portion that serves to divide us. I think we have reached that point in North Carolina. And while there is no shortage of opinions on HB2, there is no effective structure to address any of the sanest responses. Instead, we are stuck with the politics of inaction, which at least regarding HB2, looks to be increasingly disastrous for our state’s economic and moral health.
In the course of six months, HB2, the little bill that was so important as to necessitate a special legislative session, is now such a political liability that the governor, and nominative figurehead of the party that conceived and gave life to the law, is attempting to effectively disinherit its very being. Under common-law, we used to call children born to illegitimate circumstances “bastards” – perhaps HB2 is the political equivalent.
Kevin J. Rogers is the director of policy and public affairs for Action NC and a lecturer of government and political science at William Peace University in Raleigh.