Eleven hours and ten minutes.
That's how long it took to ram through House Bill 2, the most extreme anti-LGBT legislation in the entire country, from the first House committee meeting being gaveled to order last Wednesday morning to Governor McCrory's signature that night. That's how long it took the legislature's Republicans to roll back decades of civil rights progress and make us a national laughingstock.
But, as McCrory noted in a press release Saturday—posted both by his campaign and the governor's office and circulated far and wide by state agencies—the Republicans didn't act alone. Eleven House Democrats joined seventy-one Republicans in this power grab, which not only gutted Charlotte's antidiscrimination ordinance under the guise of protecting women from imaginary bathroom creeps but also took down LGBT protections and living-wage ordinances all over the state.
Which left us wondering: Why were nearly a dozen Dems—all men, almost all from rural areas, and mostly older—willing to give this charade a bipartisan veneer? So we decided to call and offer them a chance to explain their vote. And when they didn't answer, we called again. And again. And again—until we filled their voice mailboxes. And if that failed, we scoured the Internet to see if they'd made statements to anyone else.
Many of them dodged our calls, some rather pathetically—looking at you, William Brisson—but a few provided answers, which we've transcribed for you below, edited only for space and clarity.
Representative Larry M. Bell, D-Duplin, Sampson, Wayne
"It was my understanding that [the ordinance] changed the way people were allowed to use restrooms, and I was not convinced that the present system we use now was broken. I thought men go to men's bathroom, and ladies go to the ladies', and I don't see why Charlotte needed to change that. ...
"I am African-American, and, to talk about discrimination, I know about that. I could write a book about it, so it's not anything that deals with a race situation. If you're born a male or female, I don't see how that can be discriminatory unless you want to talk to God about it. Males go to the male restrooms; females go to female ones. ...
"I did not think we should be dealing with that [in a special session] at all, because I didn't think it was an emergency situation we should have been coming to Raleigh for ... . [Republicans] added other things into it—other parts of it—that was discrimination against businesses and so forth."
Representative William D. Brisson, D-Bladen, Johnston, Sampson
Reached by phone Monday, Brisson responded to the INDY's request for comment with, "Nah, I'm good."
Representative Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland
Floyd did not respond to numerous messages seeking comment.
Representative Ken Goodman, D-Hoke, Montgomery, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland
"I have a sincerely held belief that bathrooms should be private and that they shouldn't be shared by people of the opposite sex; that was the only part of the bill I was interested in, and I believe the constituents in my district feel the same way. ...
"I didn't get to write the bill, so you don't get exactly what you want all the time. The only part of the bill I was interested in was the transgender bathroom issue. ... I think section three-point-two will need another look, which is the right to sue in state court. That eliminates the state remedy for workers being fired for wrongful termination. I would prefer that not be in the bill.
"I have gotten a lot of assumptions made that the vote was bigoted, and I certainly don't want to discriminate against anybody. ... I understand how people feel hurt on the bill, but people have sincere beliefs, and that was my reason for voting."
Representative Charles Graham, D-Robeson
(Editor's note: this is verbatim.) "Uhhhh ... well ... uhhhh ... HB 2 ... uhhhh .... I voted in favor of that, uh, HB 2, because I was concerned about the safety of our citizens in, um, restrooms. Um, I think it, um, certainly opened the door of opportunity for individuals to, uh, of, uh, of the ordinance, um ... and, meaning that, you know, predators, and ... folks that had, uh ... uhmmm ... other intentions would have been allowed to take advantage of that ordinance and certainly wanted to, take care of the, my number one concern was taking care of the safety of our children, ummm, and our citizens in, in, in, in ... in public restrooms or private, uh, for that matter. Uhhhm. Well ... in this case, public. Um. I wanted to, uh ... I felt that the constituents that I represent would want me to vote that way, and of course, uhhhh, I'm, uh, um ... you know, a representative of the people of Robeson County, and, umm, I certainly had a lot of, um, folks who encouraged me to not support, support that ordinance, because it would, could have had statewide implications. Of course ... uh... that's why, um, I voted the way I did."
Representative George Graham, D-Craven, Greene, Lenoir
Graham did not respond to numerous messages seeking comment.
Representative Howard Hunter III, D-Bertie, Gates, Hertford, Pasquotank
Hunter did not respond to messages seeking comment, but he told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, "I had my mind locked in on living up to my morals and values that men have no place in a women's restroom, no matter if that man alleges he identifies himself as a woman psychologically. ...
"I understand the gay and lesbian community because I have friends, and some colleagues, who are active members of that lifestyle and I accept them for who they are. It's the transgender community that I don't know that much about. The transgender community is not out in the open here in the rural areas of our state as it is in the metro areas. Perhaps I need to do a better job of educating myself about transgender individuals."
Representative William O. Richardson, D-Cumberland
Richardson did not respond to numerous messages seeking comment.
Representative Garland Pierce, D-Hoke, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland
Pierce did not respond to messages seeking comment, but he told the Associated Press, "I think some of us, particularly myself, did not understand the implications of what it would do. We heard some criticism of it early on but not the level of what we're hearing today. Still, everybody has the right to privacy in these facilities."
Representative Brad Salmon, D-Harnett, Lee
The INDY reached Salmon by cellphone last Thursday morning. He said he was busy and asked if he could call us back. He did not call back, nor did he respond to repeated follow-up messages.
Representative Michael H. Wray, D-Halifax, Northhampton
Wray did not respond to numerous messages seeking comment.
This article appeared in print with the headline "What the Hell Were You Thinking?"