Jim Jenkins

Losses won’t cause GOP to back down on HB2

The intention of the Charlotte City Council was simple enough: to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That translated in part to allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify. The truth is, transgender men and women have likely been doing so for decades, with virtually no problem and without being noticed.

But Republican leaders in the General Assembly bulled into the issue (with HB2) and dismissed the Charlotte council’s action and, at the same time, passed a measure which could open the way for all sorts of discrimination if a merchant, for example, decided not to serve a customer who was gay or transgender because of that merchant’s personal beliefs.

In addition, local governments, thanks to the legislature’s action — signed almost immediately by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican – are prohibited from passing anti-discrimination ordinances for those individuals and groups. It sounds outrageous, but don’t expect a quick reversal.

The legislature’s action will face legal challenge, and because Attorney General Roy Cooper rightly opposes the law, GOP lawmakers will likely hire expensive private attorneys to conduct the defense of their action. They’ll probably lose.

But North Carolina already is losing. Mostly notably, PayPal nixed plans to establish an operations center in Charlotte with hundreds of jobs, because of the General Assembly. Well more than 100 businesses have signed on in opposition, and the National Basketball Association could move its All-Star Game out of Charlotte for 2017. Movie producers are saying they won’t come to North Carolina anymore. The NCAA opposes HB2, and that could cost a state that has traditionally hosted tournament games.

The governor, trying to claim the law doesn’t change anything for localities, which is wrong, seems in a panic mode. Governors in South Dakota and Georgia vetoed similar measures. A former mayor of Charlotte, McCrory knows the loss of conventions and the like will be a killer for cities. But GOP leaders on Jones Street treat him like the cousin they don’t even want at the family reunion.

So with the legislature set to come back to town later this month, some moderates are reckoning that lawmakers will of course act on the first day to reverse themselves, to repeal the law.

They won’t. For this is about more than sexual orientation and gender identity, which are no business of the government.

No, the complicating factor here is that House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President pro tem Phil Berger have been overseeing a sort of war on the cities, curbing taxing rights, even trying to redraw lines for local elections to give the GOP an advantage.

That Charlotte could lose millions in convention business, that Raleigh and Greensboro could lose millions without those NCAA games, is no cause for Moore and Berger to hit the panic button and repeal the law, because they do not care if the cities lose big money. The cities tend to have more Democrats, after all. Starving them will teach the Democrats a lesson, right?

My people, as we say, ty, are from Shelby, near Moore’s home of Kings Mountain, roughly 50 miles west of Charlotte. It’s one of the prettiest spots in North Carolina. My grandfather was the Baptist preacher in Boiling Springs, nine miles away. And most other kinfolk live in places like Phil Berger’s Eden, near the Virginia line. It’s hard to imagine a better name for a place you’d want to live.

So this isn’t about some kind of clash between snobs in the cities and small town folks. It’s about Republicans wanting to stick it to the Democrats who carry clout in the cities. But if ever there were a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face, this is it.

Those tens of millions of dollars that are spent on conventions in Charlotte and Raleigh are spread out to all the communities in the vicinity of those cities and beyond. Prospective employers looking at cities for headquarters will have their workers living in towns within a 50-mile radius. And some of those businesses might build satellites in more rural areas. The cities may be the hub of economic activity, but the wealth can be shared, and already is.

But no truce is likely. And the casualties are mounting.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com