Editorial: Public stance, private angst
Gov. Pat McCrory has stoutly defended House Bill 2, “the bathroom bill,” throughout the campaign season and in debates with Attorney General Roy Cooper. Before the General Assembly passed the bill in emergency session, though, McCrory had stronger reservations than the public may realize, according to emails that circulated in his administration.
The Charlotte Observer filed a public records request on April 5 for copies of emails sent or received by McCrory and his staff since Feb. 1 regarding House Bill 2 and the Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance the bill was designed to stop. Six months later on Oct. 7, with the request still not fulfilled, the Observer filed suit against McCrory. The files were delivered on Monday, Oct. 17.
Perhaps the clearest description of McCrory’s thinking showed up in an email from his general counsel, Bob Stephens, responding in late March to a former colleague’s concerns.
“Bob, here are the facts: We fought against this bill,” Stephens wrote to Bob Turner. “You have no idea how hard the Governor worked to limit it. He told the legislature that it went too far. We lobbied against it and even drafted our own version of the bill but it was not accepted.” A veto, he explained, would have been overridden.
The Charlotte ordinance that prompted the controversial law protected transgender people who use public bathrooms based on their gender identity. Under House Bill 2, the gender on birth certificates is what counts. The bill also established a statewide ban against discrimination that omits sexual identity or gender orientation as protected categories. And it prohibited local governments from adopting their own anti-discrimination laws or regulations on employment practices.
Strongly worded emails came from people on both sides of the issue, the records show. Some went to Fred Steen, the former Landis mayor who worked as McCrory’s chief lobbyist until this summer. The bill passed on March 23, and while praise poured in from some groups, administration officials soon were dealing with the corporate consequences — starting with the loss of 400 PayPal jobs. “That’s just one of many,” Stephens wrote to a real estate executive. “Raleigh and Durham are now reporting cancellations of events. I’m afraid that some of the tech companies in (Research Triangle Park) are going to be next.”
Kudos to the state public records law for giving citizens access to more than the public face officials project, and kudos to the Observer for pressing its case. If House Bill 2 is one of the defining issues of this campaign, voters should know how McCrory feels about the law. According to his counsel, McCrory was ambivalent at best — and helpless to stop lawmakers he thought were going too far.