Just when you thought the year in North Carolina politics had finally come to a merciful end, well, welcome to special session number five.
On Monday afternoon, the outgoing Governor McCrory called a special session for Wednesday, in which legislators will—theoretically—repeal HB 2, the controversial law that led directly to McCrory's narrow defeat last month. This followed the Charlotte City Council's decision, at the urging of Governor-elect Roy Cooper, to conditionally repeal the antidiscrimination ordinance that was the casus belli for this imbroglio.
Plenty of open questions surround this Faustian bargain. Among them: Will House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger make good on their end? Even if they wanted to, can they gin up the votes? Will the repeal have conditions, or will lawmakers stuff the bill with other things Democrats find unpalatable?
There's also a very real question about whether Democrats have effectively ceded the moral high ground. After all, as Moore and Berger gleefully noted, Charlotte—with Cooper's blessing—twice rejected similar deals offered by legislative leaders. "Today," they said in a statement Monday, "Roy Cooper and [Charlotte mayor] Jennifer Roberts proved what we said was the case all along: their efforts to force men into women's bathrooms and shower facilities was a political stunt to drive out-of-state money into the governor's race."
Ignore the trans-baiting rhetoric, and they kind of have a point. What's more, Charlotte's repeal was a tacit admission that its defense of LGBTQ rights was partly to blame for the economic damage the state incurred, and Cooper's involvement with the deal signaled that, as governor, he'd be willing to compromise on protections for the marginalized in the name of economic development.
Still, there's potential here. If the legislature fully repeals HB 2—a big if—then there's nothing stopping progressive counties and municipalities from passing ordinances similar or even identical to Charlotte's. Of course, the legislature could override such measures, but this time Cooper would be there to (presumably) veto. And that means, to overturn the veto, Republicans would have to muster up supermajorities willing to relitigate the HB 2 fight and suffer another backlash. They might not see that battle as being worth their energy.
The question is, are local officials courageous enough to take advantage of this opportunity?
Carrboro alderman Damon Seils told the INDY Monday that he worried Charlotte was giving up too much. "The Charlotte ordinance still held a lot of symbolic power," he said. "The idea that it's being put up for bargain—something feels off about this." He did point out that, if HB 2 dies, a town ordinance prohibiting discrimination against contractors would go back into effect. "I would like for Carrboro to do something more," he added, suggesting that a Charlotte-like ordinance wasn't out of the realm of possibility.
The same goes for Durham, where city council member Jillian Johnson says serious discussions about passing an antidiscrimination ordinance are taking place. "I'd be totally down with it," she says.
In Wake County, Commissioner Matt Calabria says, "I hesitate to count my chickens before they're hatched." He points out that, soon after taking office, he and Commissioner John Burns coauthored an ordinance protecting county employees from discrimination. "I'm proud of what we have done and hope we can continue to demonstrate the values of openness and kindness."
"I support nondiscrimination protection for transgender people," says Raleigh city council member David Cox. "I still need to understand the specifics of what other communities will be doing, so I can't commit at this time. ... Please check back in a week or so."
Don't worry. We will.
This article appeared in print with the headline "About That HB 2 Repeal."