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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

After HB2, the future lies before us, and you know I'm right.

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“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cheshire Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.” 

I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” 

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.  

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” 

-Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 6

"...marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression..."

These ten words are what HB2 is all about. The Charlotte City Council failed to include them in the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance in 2015.

After voters turned out members who opposed the add that fall, it was passed in February 2016.

Before it could go into effect, the North Carolina General Assembly called itself into special session to pass HB2, which overturned every nondiscrimination law in the state and barred any new ones from enactment. They pointedly rewrote the state antidiscrimination law to exclude the ten words from the Charlotte ordinance.

Nine months will have passed, come Friday, since Governor McCrory signed HB2 into law.

Monday morning, with no notice, the Charlotte City Council voted unanimously to repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance that included the ten words, that the General Assembly already repealed last March.

Governor-elect Roy Cooper- also on Monday- announced that the General Assembly will hold another special session Tuesday to repeal its repeal of the Charlotte ordinance the City Council just repealed.

We may all rest assured the Republicans have a secret plan for what comes after HB2. They have been beavering away on this for ages (while in Raleigh, they will, doubtless, also remember some powers they forgot to strip last Tuesday).

Here are my predictions:

LGBT North Carolinians will be fobbed off with a study commission, its members stacked by Speaker Moore and Senator Berger on advice from party paymaster Art Pope and the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

State Rep. Chris Sgro will- I predict- be the token LGBT member; there will be no transgender representation, nor will the new Governor get to appoint anyone.

The commission will not produce a report until 2019. The General Assembly will have its hands full next year, what with court-ordered redistricting of the whole state, a special election for the whole legislature in the fall- to test out the vote-rigging possibilities of the new elections boards- and regular elections again in 2018.

They’re gonna have to hold a fire sale to gut enough regs and cut enough taxes to buy their way into power three times in 24 months. Donors are not stupid. With 108 highly-motivated GOP lawmakers shopping for support, they will raise prices.

Religious conservatives will be fobbed off- in 2017's General Assembly long session-- with a full-on Mike Pence Religious Freedom Restoration Act and some gratuitous extra abortion restrictions (in the lugubrious modern fashion, the package will be dubbed, "Pat's Law").

They will get every opportunity for input in drafting, testimony, lobbying and protest, the better to extend and radicalize the law. They are a valued part of the Republican Party. While they will never change many general election outcomes- what will they do, vote Libertarian?- they can recruit even keener racists and God-botherers for GOP primaries.

The smart legislature, therefore, always keeps some social issue crafts projects at the ready to placate the Angry Christianist who drops in for a cuppa and a jeremiad.[1]

Mostly, the goal will revert to Raleigh norms: do no more harm to others than you can get away with on the cheap.

The HB2 mantra in Raleigh has always been to tie nondiscrimination law to federal nondiscrimination law (which also excludes the ten words)  and thus to say we are in line with all the other Republican-controlled states- and the Republican-controlled Congress.

This demand for the central government's imposition of national standards is, in virtually every other conservative thought-spasm, anathema. But it provides cover ("we aren't discriminating, we are making sure North Carolinians get the same protection as every other American"), and is a way to kick the whole can 'o worms up to DC. As Governor McCrory said in his proclamation,

[T]he whole issue of gender identity is a national issue that will be resolved by the courts and the United States Justice Department.

Washington, of course, is where McCrory and the Republicans know exactly the opposite of what they want the public to think they are saying to happen. There NC Congressman Mark Meadows has already unveiled his anti-LGBT First Hundred Days Action Plan.

Senator Ted Cruz and his allies are dusting off old constitutional amendments, hoping to revive the Karl Rove plan for stacking laws and amendments against LGBT Americans as high as Mr Trump's wall.

Republicans in Washington are keen to make discrimination uniform and will pass a national HB2 next year. It is called the First Amendment Defense Act, and Mr Trump has already promised to sign it.

His Supreme Court and lower court nominees will cut off HB2 litigation at the ankles, making that all go away. "You repealed it? Well, then, nothing to decide here. Get thee home."

Back home, every pol in the state will claim victory. The City Council gave the legislature until December 31 to repeal HB2. If you don't, they said, we will re-pass what we just repealed after you repealed it after we passed it the last time. As the Black Knight dared King Arthur in Monty Python and The Holy Grail,

Oh, oh, I see! Running away, eh? You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what's coming to you! I'll bite your legs off!

The Council’s gift to outgoing Governor McCrory, I thought, was a nice gesture: a fig leaf to hang over his tiny legacy?

Hi this is Governor Pat McCrory [sic].

Now that the Charlotte ordinance has finally been repealed, the expectation of privacy in our showers, bathrooms and locker rooms is restored and protected under previous state law.

I have always publicly advocated a repeal of the overreaching Charlotte ordinance. [2]

But those efforts were blocked by Jennifer Roberts, Roy Cooper and other Democratic activists. This sudden reversal with little notice after the gubernatorial election has ended sadly proves this entire issue, originated by the political left, was all about politics at the expense of Charlotte and the entire state of North Carolina. But as I promised months ago, if the Charlotte ordinance was repealed, I would call our General Assembly into a Special Session to reconsider existing state legislation passed earlier this year. And I'm doing just that for this Wednesday. But it should also be noted that the whole issue of gender identity is a national issue that will be resolved by the courts and the United States Justice Department. Like all of us, I look forward to that resolution and to working with our state legislators in the coming days.

Thank you and may God continue to bless the great state of North Carolina.

That from the man who started signed bills stripping his successor of authority less than an hours after they were passed by a secretly-organized special session. Spiteful to the last, he contradicted Cooper and called the session for Wednesday.

For their parts, Speaker Moore and Senator Berger didn't seem any more conciliatory than McCrory. They issued a joint statement declaring,

Today 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.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts’ re-election bid will be made somewhat easier by this. Her two African-American primary challengers, Mayor pro tem Vi Lyles (who was negotiating with the GOP leadership to cut a deal last spring, and was willing to cut the transgender community out of the ordinance) and state senator Joel Ford (who says he opposed HB2 but was never able to be where it was voted on, who has otherwise been mute about it, and who brushes constituents off concerned by it), planned a fusion of black voters- who support HB2 and are angry about the Keith Scott shooting- and the business community, which just wants the hotels full and the ACC back.

On the other hand, The Charlotte Observer reports, Governor-elect Cooper, who decided he wants to start his administration with HB2 behind him, started negotiations over the weekend- not with the mayor, but with Lyles and another council member, Julie Eiselt.

Po-faced, Lyles put up a Facebook post Tuesday:

After today's vote, I want to ask Charlotte's citizens to trust the process. I believe in equality for everyone - all Charlotteans - regardless of race, religion, sexuality or gender identity. When all of us are treated with dignity, respect with equal protections, Charlotte will be at it's best [sic].

I responded,

I had no protection before the ordinance was passed. I had none while HB2 repealed it. I have none now that you have repealed what they had already repealed. And you have no idea what they will do in Raleigh. I do, and it will not mark an overnight change of heart by a homophobic legislative majority. I have been patted on the head and told, "Be patient, we will get around to you someday" before, and this is just one more instance. In the meantime, you have got your sports back and your corporate leaders are happy.

Lyles has not responded. She told a local paper, however,

“I didn’t feel we had as much assurance (from the state) the first time. I just believe it’s the right time.

For her part, Mayor Roberts, who insisted all year that LGBT rights are not bargaining chips, cashed hers in, telling her supporters,

There will be much more conversations about equality.

While LGBT supporters of Mayor Roberts feel- quite rightly- that she has sold our birthright for a mess of ACC Tournament skybox seats- we are as stuck as the evangelicals are with the GOP. Where can we go next election? Already, Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign are spinning dross into gold, claiming what can only be described as an unmitigated, and utterly predictable humiliation is rubbed in our- and Charlotte's faces in the first days of what will be years to come.[3]

Raleigh Republicans, after all, spent last week punishing Governor-elect Cooper for Democratic Party snubs to the first GOP governor of the last century.

A bemused Senator Jeff Jackson wrote this week,

They keep citing offenses from the 1970’s and I keep telling them my parents hadn’t even met yet.[4]

And that report I predicted the General Assembly will order? It will be too close to the 2020 election to do anything with it. The demographic hinge is inexorably closing on Republicans, so they need a foolproof steal to gerrymander themselves, once more, into Art Pope’s pocket, then into power, for another decade.

The commission report, which will call on North Carolinians to be nice to gays if they chance to meet one, will be shelved in the space the GOP cleared last week after passing all those long-forgotten old proposals.

The GOP in Raleigh will not experience a new birth of warm feelings toward the gays between now and Wednesday. That much you can go to the bank on.

There will be no incentive for the mayoral candidates- which now include the mayor, the mayor pro tem, a Republican council member and a space-filling Democratic state senator- to stake out new positions on LGBT rights in 2017.

The word on every front will be, "We need to move on." It's the Charlotte way. Charlotte-area Senator Jeff Tarte- who says firing someone for being gay is wrong but voted to make it legal with HB2- has been calling for this for months.
He told Charlotte Public Radio,

I think the big thing is let's just reset. Go back to where we were prior to both ordinances. And then let's move forward. Let's not necessarily just drop the topic. But let's get all the stakeholders around the table and work for a collaborative solution going forward that protects everybody appropriately.

"Appropriately." That's the key. I predict it will take years to decide what that means, mostly through the process of giving it as little thought as possible. HB2 is the ultimate free pass for pols.

They will be able to put off equality issues forever: "It's just too divisive." As we are reminded, weekly, that we cannot address out-of-control violence by private citizens more heavily armed that the cops because people need to time to grieve, and heal, so lawmakers who lived through the Year of HB2 will cite Mark Twain:

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.

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Thus cometh the Great Reset. Private business, and individuals, will keep their cherished right to discriminate, while public facilities and services will no longer be required to do so. Politicovangelicals and the Human Rights Campaign will raise more money off the specters of each other.

Governor Cooper is sure to retain Governor McCrory's executive order protecting LGBT state employees from the discrimination he wanted imposed on all, then partly caved over.

The state’s leadership will muddle on, as Churchill accused the British government in 1936, strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.

And over us all, in an everlasting example of prior restraint, will loom the ghost of HB2 and the big hammer wielded by the Raleigh Republicans. It will be a long time before a city or county tries to be anything but the least it can be to its residents.

My Shelby friends will nod and smile and say, “See? We aren’t like that at all. It was all Charlotte’s fault. And what were you so worked up about, anyway? You didn’t have those ten words before HB2. You didn’t have them with it. And you won't have them without it.

"Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll cancel your dinner order. I have some Baptists who've driven in from Casar to find out Speaker Moore abolished motor vehicle pollution controls for Cleveland County. They're peeved they made the trip for nothing and want your table. Will you be coming back for the class reunion?”

Honor is served. Sport will be restored.

The economy will continue to grow in the cities and not in HB2lands, but the sales tax ratios will be rejiggered to take more from the cities to prop up dying cities and counties ("You need to think what people are saying about [HB2] 20 miles outside of Charlotte- Shelby, Lincolnton, Wadesboro- It’s like night and day. I see it every day as I travel these towns," Governor McCrory told The Charlotte Chamber in October).

Bread and circuses: the politicians’ last best hope since 140 B.C.


[1] "We're sending the message to our supporters that lawmakers should not now betray people who supported them and compromise common-sense principles like privacy, dignity and freedom from our citizens," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition. Repeal also would break faith with social conservatives just weeks after they knocked on thousands of doors to back McCrory's re-election effort, Fitzgerald said.

The legislative affiliate of the Family Research Council sent out a statement asking supporters to call McCrory and ask him not to call the special session and "stand up to out-of-state bullies."

(Fitzgerald also predicted HB2 would not cause a single corporate, entertainment or sporting event boycott of the state.)

[2] “Publicly”? Machiavellian messaging presaging a second Carolina Comeback in a fourth run for governor come 2020? Or just stupid? We report. You decide.

[3] Three months ago, Roberts and the Council majority spurned the very same deal they unanimously endorsed Monday. Having decried $40,000 cost of a one-day special session to enact HB2, they are cool with the $40,000 cost of a one-day special session to repeal it.

In September, the same deal was on the table again. But Mayor Jennifer Roberts announced it would not be on the agenda, and LGBT activists cheered. One official with the Human Rights Campaign called the proposal “a cheap trick.”

...The Human Rights Campaign in May called the Charlotte Chamber an “anti-LGBT bully” for lobbying council members to support a compromise almost identical to what they approved Monday.

Earlier this month, when Cooper was declared winner of the hard-fought governor’s race, Chad Griffin of the HRC was part of a celebratory news conference outside the Charlotte Government Center. He said McCrory’s defeat was a “historic turning point.”

He said McCrory “picked a fight with fair-minded North Carolinians and lost.” He also said that “hate has consequences.”

The HRC issued a statement Monday that didn’t discuss whether Charlotte had done the right thing by repealing its ordinance.

“It’s time to chart a new course guided by the state’s values of dignity and respect, not discrimination and hate – and to ensure nondiscrimination protections exist in cities, towns and across the state of North Carolina,” Griffin said in the statement.

[4] The biggest winner of the Republican's wrath? Former Governor Jim Hunt. About to turn eighty, sixteen years out of office after sixteen years as governor, the most consequential leader in the state's history proved he can still drive 108 legislators batshit crazy by simply being alive.

The biggest loser? State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, simply because he is a big loser. Exhibit B in his bill of attainder is the Democrats' 1989 stripping of new GOP Lt. Governor Jim Gardner's authority as president of the state senate.

Despite his outrage, Berger has never moved to give any of the rearranged powers back to the lieutenant governor's office.

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