When the N.C. General Assembly passed House Bill 2 last month in an hourslong special session, it effectively nullified an anti-discrimination policy put into place by the Charlotte City Council and a handful of similar policies across the state.
There is good reason for this kerfuffle. It wasn’t long ago when “separate but equal” bathrooms, schools and water fountains in this state existed solely as a reminder that our state was somehow heterogeneous; that we weren’t all equal.
There are other troubling parts of the law besides the bathroom rules, however, as it prohibits cities from creating minimum wage policies or anti-discrimination policies on their own, limiting local control of municipal governments.
It is not solely the fault of news agencies that they have come to focus solely on the bathroom rules within the law, however. It has been Gov. Pat McCrory and his homophobic partners who have put watchful eyes on the bathroom stalls.
But that’s precisely the point: Making North Carolina a spectacle over this law does more than cancel Bruce Springsteen; it gives McCrory a national stage for his re-election battle.
So what else is House Bill 2 about?
It’s about 2016.
McCrory asked N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper (now his ballot opponent in November) to file an amicus brief last November aligning North Carolina with South Carolina against a transgender teenager in the case of Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board. Cooper declined, preventing the state from embarrassment last month when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of Gavin, holding that he and other students should use the bathroom facilities within which they feel most comfortable.
With the March 15 primary approaching, Ken Spaulding (Cooper’s opponent) voiced his opposition to the Charlotte ordinance and sent the N.C. GOP into a frenzy.
On March 1, the GOP pinned the Charlotte bathroom ordinance on Cooper. He still won the primary handily. On March 23, the NCGA passed HB2 and by March 29 Cooper announced he would not defend the law in court.
All of this occurred as a McCrory attack ad and the more homophobic corners of the conservative interwebs continued to push a narrative whereby men were using the women’s bathroom under Cooper’s watch.
The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act is an artificial social issue the GOP created to give N.C. Republicans a reason to go to the polls in November other than Donald Trump.
— Tim Boyum (@BoyumTWCnews) May 12, 2016
It’s about 2020.
Take a look at his Twitter account and you can see McCrory is loving the attention. Win or lose this November, he’ll cast himself in the same light as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who reveled in his time as Texas Attorney General suing the federal government.
Indeed, when the two are vetted for their conservative chops ahead of 2020, both will have name recognition as plaintiffs in highly publicized cases that speak the angry, discriminatory “truth” the Republican base wants to hear, either over immigrants or the LGBT community.
McCrory, at 59, is angling for higher office and knows that turning the transgender community into a straw-man Obama is the best way to guarantee a soundbyte the Republican base can sink their teeth into without sounding racist.
It’s about power.
And it’s nothing new.
North Carolina Republicans began usurping power from local governments almost as soon as they took over the General Assembly.
After drawing up maps to concentrate minorities into gerrymandered Congressional districts in 2010 (requiring an additional June 7 primary now that the courts have had their say) the NCGA turned toward local policies.
Besides limiting the City of Asheville’s ability to write its own water policies, legislators also targeted annexations throughout the state, in one case issuing petitions to an annexed area of Goldsboro to act as a referendum on the city’s newest expansion of services, including the installation of a sewer line.
The courts called the law unconstitutional because petitions were sent only to those who owned property in the area. Property owners argued that because they were the ones paying the additional city taxes — not their renters — they should have sole voting rights in the referendum, never mind the streetlights and trash pickup.
When the petition law was held up, the legislature took things into its own hands by cobbling several local bills together into one that would remove entire swaths of jurisdiction from cities across the state with one legislative action.
The bill passed and by May 2012, the area in Wayne County which had been incorporated as part of Goldsboro in 2008, had been “deannexed,” just as was the case for cities across the state.
Soon thereafter, the NCGA passed another law, this time creating a moratorium on the types of annexations cities across the state had used to grow since 1959.
House Bill 2 is the latest in a series of attempts by the General Assembly to concentrate all policy-making power on Jones Street.