Lieutenant governor candidates spar over House Bill 2 in debate

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest leads the monthly NC Council of State meeting at the NC Department of Administration in downtown Raleigh, NC Tuesday, September 13, 2016.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest leads the monthly NC Council of State meeting at the NC Department of Administration in downtown Raleigh, NC Tuesday, September 13, 2016. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and his Democratic opponent, Linda Coleman, offered drastically different views on House Bill 2 Tuesday night as the controversial LGBT law became a major issue in the often overshadowed race.

The candidates for lieutenant governor held their only scheduled debate at Barton College in Wilson, the first of several debates that will highlight different Council of State races. Forest and Coleman faced several questions about HB2 at the forum, which came one day after the NCAA announced the withdrawal of sporting events from North Carolina over opposition to the law.

In his role as president of the state Senate, Forest initiated the special legislative session that passed HB2. He’s continued to defend the law, which requires transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their birth certificate when in government facilities or schools.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that my wife would have to walk into a bathroom anywhere in North Carolina and have a man follow her into that bathroom,” Forest said.

He blamed the Charlotte City Council for prompting HB2 when it passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

“They said that in the city of Charlotte, you have to take the (gender) signs off your bathrooms,” he said. “They’re actually a test lab for a radical sexual revolution experiment.”

The Charlotte ordinance did not require the removal of gender-specific bathrooms, nor did its provisions involve signage.

Coleman, a former N.C. House legislator and Wake County commissioner, said HB2 needs to be repealed.

“HB2 has cost the state of North Carolina millions of dollars,” she said. “The NCAA will cost even more. The cost is going to be too tremendous for the state of North Carolina to bear.”

While Forest said there have been numerous cases around the country in which men attempted to enter women’s bathrooms, Coleman disputed his claim.

“There is not one documented case where we have had women in bathrooms where men came in to assault them,” she said. “The protection of women is yet another disguise for promoting a bill that has no place in North Carolina. It is making North Carolina a test laboratory for state-sponsored discrimination.”

Tuesday’s debate also featured sharp divides between Forest and Coleman on voter ID, private school “opportunity scholarship” vouchers and nonpartisan redistricting.

“The parent should have the choice for the education of their students,” Forest said of the voucher program. “The government should not be the decider for that.”

Coleman disagreed. “I believe that people should be able to send their children to any school they want,” she said. “I don’t think it should be paid for with taxpayer dollars.”

Coleman voiced support for a nonpartisan system to draw legislative and congressional districts, but Forest argued that “there’s no such thing as impartial” and that current GOP-drawn districts are “not gerrymandered at all.”

Forest also defended the state’s law requiring photo ID to vote and limiting voting options, which was recently struck down by a federal court. “You need an ID to do just about anything to participate in society,” he said. “In other states where they’ve done this, they’ve actually seen minority participation go up.”

Coleman strongly opposed the law. “Voter ID was a bad, monstrous bill,” she said. “It denied participation in democracy.”

Tuesday’s debate was broadcast live only by radio, but video of the event will air Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Channel.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter