Flushing away a chance to do right
North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature had no problem taking the unprecedented and controversial step of stripping the incoming Democratic governor of significant powers. But when it came time to get rid of a law that has cost the state millions of dollars in lost jobs, that has led to boycotts and canceled sports events and that is strongly opposed by North Carolina residents, the legislature punted.
A special session had been convened for the express purpose of repealing the state’s notorious bathroom law. House Bill 2, known as HB2 and enacted in March, not only requires that transgender people in public buildings use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. It also curbs legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
After a day of closed-door meetings and machinations, lawmakers adjourned without taking any action, save for a lot of finger-pointing about who was to blame.
About that, there can be no mistake. Whatever deals were supposedly made or broken this week, it was the Republicans in control of both houses of the legislature and occupying the governor’s mansion who pushed through this terrible law in the first place and have allowed it to stay on the books no matter the harm done.
The GOP made sadly clear that the consequences of the law — a public backlash that has hurt the state’s reputation and economy while also arguably costing the sitting governor his job — matter less than pandering to the party’s extremist base. Indeed, indications that the repeal effort was doomed emerged when, as the Charlotte Observer reported, Wednesday’s deliberations opened with attempts by Republican lawmakers to declare the session itself unconstitutional.
Republicans can effectively thumb their collective nose at the public because of the gerrymandering of legislative districts that extended and cemented GOP control over the legislature. Essentially, that left many of them accountable only to their most right-wing voters.
A three-judge federal panel ruled that redistricting unconstitutional. Unless the Supreme Court overturns the ruling, there will be a new map and special elections next year. It is too soon to predict the outcome of that election, but it is safe to say that as long as this law remains on the books, it will frame the political debate.