Charlotte, N.C. — Mayor Jennifer Roberts quickly shot down on Monday any attempt to predicate a repeal of a state law many find discriminatory on the repeal of a Charlotte ordinance.
Legislative leaders over the weekend said they believe there is enough support in the House and the Senate to roll back House Bill 2 if Charlotte first rescinds a local law that requires businesses to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choosing.
Lawmakers passed House Bill 2 in a one-day emergency session in March to void Charlotte's ordinance, but the state law went further to exclude gay and transgender people from protections against discrimination. The state law has created a nationwide backlash with entertainers canceling concerts, organizations shifting their conventions to sites outside North Carolina and the NBA, the NCAA and the ACC all moving sporting events from the state.
The law is widely unpopular statewide and has become a drag on Gov. Pat McCrory's re-election campaign, according to the results of an Elon University Poll released Monday.
Complete coverage: House Bill 2 Nearly 50 percent of those surveyed oppose House Bill 2, compared with almost 40 percent who support it. More than a third of respondents said they were less likely to vote for McCrory in November because of his handling of the issue. Still, McCrory has a slight lead of 48.7 percent to 46 percent over his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper.
About three-fifths of respondents said House Bill 2 has hurt North Carolina's reputation, while only 11.4 percent said it has helped. Twenty-three percent said it has made no difference.
Elon polled 644 likely voters across the state last week, and the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.86 percentage points.
McCrory was prepared, a spokesman said, to call lawmakers back to Raleigh this week for a special session if Charlotte repealed its ordinance, but Roberts said the City Council wasn't going to add a repeal vote to the agenda for its Monday night meeting.
"The City of Charlotte continues its commitment to be a welcoming community that honors and respects all people. We appreciate the state wanting to find a solution to the challenges we are facing and applaud the governor for recognizing the state should overturn HB2, which the state can do at any time without any action from the City of Charlotte," Roberts said in a statement. "We urge the state to take action as soon as possible and encourage continued dialogue with the broader community."
Political finger-pointing ensues
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore criticized Roberts' "hasty dismissal of a reasonable proposal" and suggested Cooper was working behind the scenes to scuttle the deal.
"It makes me question if she and Roy Cooper are really serious about trying to find a solution, or if they would rather prolong this debate for political reasons, regardless of the impact on Charlotte and our state’s business community," Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement. "If the Charlotte City Council doesn't trust the legislature will rescind HB2 once Charlotte repeals its bathroom ordinance, then it could simply pass a repeal of the bathroom ordinance that is only effective if the legislature repeals HB2."
"It now seems clear that, all along, Mayor Roberts and Roy Cooper have been engaging in political theater to the detriment of the entire state," Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement. "This explains why they have refused to heed the calls to act from the business community and from people on all sides of the political spectrum."
The state Republican Party also accused Cooper of working against the repeal deal but offered no evidence to support its claim.
"(Roberts) has chosen along with Roy Cooper the petty politics of today rather than making North Carolina a better place for tomorrow," GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse said.
Cooper's campaign responded by ridiculing the allegation and saying that he has had no contact with any Charlotte City Council member in recent days.
"The legislature's trying to point the finger somewhere else when we all know that the reason we've had problems, be it with sporting events, performers or business industry, is HB2," said Chris Brook, legal director for the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the state over the law.
"We shouldn't be taking anti-discrimination measures off the books," Brook said, "but if the legislature were so inclined and was really worried about the Charlotte ordinance, they certainly have it in their power to invalidate that ordinance along with repealing House Bill 2."
Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Berger, said the General Assembly isn't interested in nullifying the Charlotte ordinance.
"The Charlotte City Council started this debate with its bathroom ordinance, and its members have a responsibility to come to the table and work toward a resolution," Carver said.
"Charlotte started this. Charlotte needs to start with the change to fix it if they think there’s been a problem," Moore said. "They’ve tried to make this about discrimination. It’s not about discrimination. It’s about basic privacy and protection and, frankly, common sense. But they’ve tried to twist it around."
Asked whether he now thinks House Bill 2 was a mistake, Woodhouse said Republican leaders were forced into it.
"It was absolutely a huge mistake for the city of Charlotte to thrust this on the people of North Carolina. It was a monumental mistake. I don't think our legislature and the governor had any choice," he said.