Under the Dome

HB2 looms large in Wake County legislative campaigns, but some GOP incumbents are silent

HB2 protesters cheer after a speech at the Bicentennial Mall as members of the Moral Monday rally across the street from the legislative building Monday, May 16, 2016. The law is becoming a key issue in Wake legislative races.
HB2 protesters cheer after a speech at the Bicentennial Mall as members of the Moral Monday rally across the street from the legislative building Monday, May 16, 2016. The law is becoming a key issue in Wake legislative races. cliddy@newsobserver.com

While three Republican legislators up for re-election in Wake County have called for repealing or revising House Bill 2, four others aren’t returning calls on the issue.

The NCAA and ACC announced in recent days that they’re moving sporting events out of North Carolina in response to the law, which among other provisions requires transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth certificate while in schools and government facilities.

The college sports championships are expected to result in the loss of millions in tourism-related revenue, and Wake will bear many of the losses: Canceled tennis, lacrosse, soccer and baseball events that Cary was scheduled to host.

The losses ensure that HB2 will be play a prominent role in Wake’s legislative races, which were already some of the most hotly contested in the state. Democrats are hoping to unseat some of Wake’s Republican legislators who voted for the bill in March.

After the NCAA and ACC announcements, three incumbents sought to distance themselves from the law they’d previously supported. Sen. John Alexander and Sen. Tamara Barringer and Rep. Gary Pendleton all said they want to see it repealed or substantially changed. They were joined by Sen. Rick Gunn of Burlington and Sen. Jeff Tarte of Mecklenburg County.

But Wake’s four other Republican lawmakers up for re-election were silent this week. Sen. Chad Barefoot, Rep. Marilyn Avila, Rep. Chris Malone and Rep. Nelson Dollar did not return multiple phone calls and emails from The News & Observer.

Here’s what the HB2 debate looks like in each Wake legislative district where a Republican is defending a seat:

Senate District 18 (eastern Wake, Wake Forest, Garner and Franklin County): Barefoot is seeking a third term and has been a staunch defender of HB2 and other conservative social legislation.

While Barefoot couldn’t be reached, his Democratic opponent, Franklin County school board member Gil Johnson, said the issue comes up frequently in the campaign. He called Barefoot’s vote for HB2 “reckless.”

“I’ve knocked a lot of doors and it’s coming up quite often,” Johnson said. “The voters I have talked to are worried about jobs leaving and what has happened to our state’s reputation. I agree with voters that this reckless legislation has had a huge negative economic impact on our state and has damaged our reputation across the country.”

Senate District 15 (Raleigh’s Five Points north to Falls Lake): Alexander is seeking a second term and voted with fellow Republicans to pass HB2 in March. But on Friday, he issued a statement calling to repeal it.

“As a husband and the father of two daughters, I continue to share the safety and privacy concerns that so many of my constituents voiced in the wake of Charlotte’s ordinance,” he said. “However, they, and I, believe that the time has come to recognize that most people don’t view HB2 as a solution to their bathroom privacy concerns, and that we need to consider changing course and repealing HB2.”

Alexander won his 2014 election by a narrow margin. He faces Democrat Laurel Deegan-Fricke, who says the state “cannot continue to pass discriminatory laws like HB2.”

Senate District 17 (parts of Cary, Apex, Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina): Barringer voted for HB2 but was the first Republican to call for repeal this week.

“Grown men have no place in little girls’ locker rooms,” she told the N&O’s editorial board. “Having said that, we’ve got to put the brakes on HB2. It’s causing North Carolina unintended consequences that were not anticipated by any of us.”

Barringer faces a well-funded challenge from Democrat Susan Evans, a Wake school board member. Evans’ campaign says Barringer’s HB2 shift is “certainly not a change of heart. It’s a purely political move designed to make voters forget that she is responsible for the loss of jobs and millions of dollars in economic investment in her district.”

House District 35 (Wake Forest, Rolesville and eastern Wake): When reached by a reporter, Malone said he was in a meeting and couldn’t answer questions. He did not respond to additional calls and emails.

Malone’s Democratic opponent, Wake Forest attorney Terence Everitt, says he hears about HB2 often from voters.

“It comes up quite frequently, and they’re never happy about it,” he said, adding he wants HB2 to be repealed.

“I’m sure Rep. Malone thought this was going to be good for him politically at the outset,” he said. “Rep. Malone styles himself as a business Republican. It shows a real immaturity about his understanding of the business world.”

House District 40 (RDU airport area, Brier Creek and Falls Lake): Avila did not respond to multiple calls and emails about HB2.

Her Democratic opponent, former judge Joe John, wants to see a repeal. “How many blows to the head do you have to take before they start enforcing the concussion protocols?” he said. “Whatever your political point of view may be, common sense tells you this is something that must be remedied.”

But John said voters he’s met are more interested in education and other issues. “I don’t see it as a major issue even though Rep. Avila was a sponsor of the bill,” he said.

House District 36 (parts of Cary and southern Wake): Dollar did not respond to multiple calls and emails about HB2.

His opponent, Jennifer Ferrell, has been endorsed by groups opposing HB2. “I will always be a strong ally for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in our district and statewide,” she wrote on Facebook recently. “The social policy attacks have to stop in the NCGA as we get back to real policy priorities of lifting up all families.”

House District 49 (Five Points and parts of northwestern Raleigh): Pendleton skipped the March special session because he didn’t want to be “harassed” into voting for HB2, he said this week as he called for substantial changes to the law.

His Democratic opponent, Cynthia Ball, points out that he signed the petition calling for a special session and his business joined a list of HB2 supporters.

Pendleton’s support for repeal comes with strings attached. “I wouldn’t vote to repeal it unless we passed a law that covered the safety of bathrooms and showers and all that,” he said.

Staff writer Colin Campbell

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