In what has become a familiar occurrence since House Bill 2 became law, Gov. Pat McCrory has embarrassed himself. As time was set to expire for North Carolina to answer the Department of Justice’s HB2 lawsuit seeking to strike down the bill’s ridiculous bathroom provision, Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office filed a motion to extend the deadline on the state’s behalf. Not only was it the right thing to do – it was his obligation as attorney general.
And yet, in an attack so absurd it’s worthy of an “Saturday Night Live” sketch, the McCrory campaign accused Cooper of “undermining the state’s position.” The governor’s spokesman, Ricky Diaz, called for Cooper to resign, citing “gross incompetence and dereliction of duty.” The only problem is the facts. Cooper had an obligation to ensure that a default was not entered against the state. In fact, the only way he could have “undermined the state’s position” was if McCrory had preferred for the Justice Department to scuttle HB2.
McCrory’s attack was illogical – and let’s not forget that Southern governors have a long history of embarrassing and counterfactual statements. Take, for example, Gov. George Wallace’s famous attacks against “the anarchists” 50 years ago to defend bigotry to the bitter end. Diaz, who may well have a future writing stand-up comedy, has marvelously succeeded in making Cooper appear incredibly gubernatorial.
The truth matters, and North Carolina conservatives deserve it. HB2 is an unmitigated disaster, both morally and economically. It was a bad idea, pushed by a sinister group, Alliance Defending Freedom, which is as infamous for its attempts to criminalize being gay in the Third World as for losing in court. HB2 was never about keeping women safe in bathrooms. A few political consultants simply convinced Republican leaders in the legislature that the bill might be a clever and inexpensive way to earn the vote of social conservatives in November.
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Here’s another truth. If Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore would step aside and allow an up or down vote on HB2, it’d be repealed. Reality has set in for many in the House and Senate Republican caucuses, and they are growing more desperate by the day. In fact, no one would benefit more from HB2’s repeal than McCrory, and I suspect he’s more anxious than anyone for Berger and Moore to give in and allow a vote on its repeal.
Sadly, North Carolina Republicans (along with a few Democrats) decided that attacking LGBT North Carolinians would win over social conservatives in the upcoming election – an inexpensive alternative to buying billboards. Most social conservatives have never met a transgender person and have no idea that most, in fact, look exactly like their affirmed gender. The proponents of this bill, unfortunately, were right. The bill riled up social conservatives – so much so, that its proponents are afraid to back down now, despite the consequences.
Even though Berger and Moore have been backed into a corner, their strategy hasn’t changed a bit: “Let Raleigh and Charlotte burn.” It’s a political strategy that has no future because Raleigh and Charlotte are economic engines. Choking the cities’ output could create a great deal of pain for their mainly rural social conservative constituencies. That might not be McCrory’s strategy, but he’s a man resigned to the extremist whims of a legislative super majority that has lost its mind.
The truth matters. McCrory is better than this. He needs to level with North Carolina voters and come clean about what we all know – that he was never on board with HB2, that he realizes its stupidity and bigotry, and that his guilt, not the airhorns, is keeping him up at night. I believe him to be a good man. It’s time to be honest with North Carolinians. Let Berger and Moore fall on their swords if they so wish, but McCrory should save himself.
A graduate of the Naval Academy, Montel Williams served 22 years in both the Navy and the Marines before going on to start the Emmy-award winning “Montel Williams” show, which ran for 17 seasons. He lives in New York City.