While North Carolina and its people face real problems, the top statewide campaigns have focused on phony fears, especially the campaigns of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican Sen. Richard Burr.
McCrory is now in his seventh month of telling us to be afraid of laws protecting the rights of transgender people. He signed House Bill 2 in March to roll back a Charlotte ordinance that granted what a majority of the legislature won’t accept – that transgender people should not be discriminated against. For good measure, the law also nullified local ordinances protecting people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
HB2 created such a storm of protest, voters aren’t hearing about other issues. There could be debates about jobs, education, environmental protections and how climate change seems to be washing away the state’s eastern half. But, no, we’re talking about bathrooms.
McCrory couldn’t wait to raise the issue. In November of 2015, well before HB2, the governor added his name to a friend-of-the-court brief filed by four other states and the governor of Maine in support of a Virginia school district resisting a transgender boy’s request to use the boys’ bathroom. Then the governor asked his soon-to-be Democratic opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, to join the brief on behalf of North Carolina, but Cooper declined to get the state involved.
Never miss a local story.
Four months later, the governor did get the state involved. He signed HB2 the day it passed, but after it blew up in his face, he asked with exasperation in an ad about the bathroom debate, “Are we really talking about this?”
It was an audacious question from the one who started the discussion. And he didn’t really want to stop talking about it. It is, as Cooper said in the last debate, “all he talks about.” Or at least all he talked about until Hurricane Matthew brought a change of subject.
Now the transgender rights issue has moved to a bigger stage. On Friday, the Supreme Court said it will decide the Virginia transgender case. Until then, North Carolinians will see more of the scare ads such as the one conservative groups have resurrected from a drive that overturned Houston’s ordinance protecting the rights of transgender people. It shows a little girl entering a public bathroom and a man following her into a stall. “Roy Cooper’s bathroom plan. What does it mean to you?” asks a female announcer, “Even registered sex offenders could follow women and young girls into the bathroom or locker room, and no one could stop them.”
Of course, there are already laws against assaulting or harassing people in bathrooms and elsewhere. HB2 changes nothing. It has no enforcement provisions and assigns no penalties for men entering women’s bathrooms. Obviously, transgender people have been using the bathroom that matched their gender identity without incident. But reason and experience have little influence in curbing this fear-mongering.
Meanwhile in the race for U.S. Senate, Republican Sen. Richard Burr has reduced the major issues facing the state, nation and world down to whether his opponent, Democrat Deborah Ross, opposed the state’s sex offender registry 1995 when she was head of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. At the time, she raised valid questions about whether publicly listing names and addresses would expose victims as well. And she made the point that offenders are both human beings and citizens entitled a chance to make a new start without a permanent scarlet letter.
Candidate Ross wavered in her convictions under the heat of Burr’s deceptive ads and issued her own ads touting how she had voted multiple times to strengthen the registry while she was in the state House.
That rebuttal only extended the issue. Last week, the state Republican Party with Burr’s approval sent fliers that say: “How many sex offenders live in your neighborhood? If U.S. Senate candidate Deborah Ross had her way, you’d never know.”
Well, now you know. What we don’t know from Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is how much the CIA tortured detainees, sometimes sexually. Burr has blocked the release of his committee’s full report on what was done to detainees – some of them captured by mistake – in America’s name.
We’re also not being told about how Burr plans to balance Americans’ right to privacy and government monitoring. Or where he stands on torture tactics that the presidential candidate he supports wants to bring back. Or what he wants done about prescription drug costs, gun violence, student debt or stagnant wages.
After 22 years in Washington as a member of the House and Senate, Burr wants his last election to turn on the North Carolina sex registry. Meanwhile he supports a presidential candidate accused by more than a dozen women of groping and kissing them against their will.
It’s to the point where every sensible voter must be repeating McCrory’s question, “Are we really talking about this?”
The answer is yes, and little else.
Barnett: 919-829-4512, or firstname.lastname@example.org