Raleigh, N.C. — Attorney General Roy Cooper has been an outspoken critic of a controversial state law on LGBT rights, but his win Monday in the fiercely fought governor's race doesn't guarantee an end to the legislation.
Cooper, a Democrat, made House Bill 2 a centerpiece of his campaign, calling it bad for North Carolina and saying Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's support of it was proof he was catering to social conservatives instead of looking out for the state's best interests.
House Bill 2 was enacted in an emergency one-day legislative session in March to overturn a Charlotte ordinance that would have required businesses providing public accommodations to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. But the law went further, establishing a statewide nondiscrimination policy that excluded the LGBT community from protection and prohibiting cities and counties from setting their own minimum wage.
The law prompted nationwide criticism and led to the NBA pulling the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte and the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference moving various championship events out of state. Entertainers also canceled concerts, organizations shifted their conventions from North Carolina and several businesses dropped plans to set up or expand operations in the state.
Still, even the most ardent opponents of House Bill 2 acknowledge Cooper has an uphill battle to reverse the law because he faces Republican super-majorities in the House and the Senate, and most of those lawmakers continue to back the law.
"I think cautiously optimistic is the word here," said Ben Graumann, development manager of LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina. "Obviously, today is a day to be proud to be a North Carolinian. We've elected a pro-equality champion to replace Gov. McCrory, who has been the face of HB2, which is such a discriminatory bill."
Graumann said state lawmakers need to take the lead and back a repeal of the law, noting several Republican legislators who voted for House Bill 2 said in the weeks leading up to the election that it should be scaled back or repealed.
"I think we're calling on those Republicans who have come out during the election against HB2," he said.
An offer that would repeal House Bill 2 only after Charlotte repeals its transgender nondiscrimination ordinance has been on the table for months and will remain an option for Cooper, according to state Republican leaders. Otherwise, they said, the ball will be in the incoming governor's court to craft a different compromise.
The North Carolina Values Coalition, one of the most fervent backers of House Bill 2, said it will continue fighting against any effort to undo the law.
"We want to put Governor-elect Cooper on notice that the citizens of North Carolina will not stand for any attempt by out-of-state interests to fundamentally change our values or compromise the privacy and safety of our children," Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the Values Coalition, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the law remains tangled in several federal lawsuits, and people on both sides of the issue say it likely will be resolved by judicial and not legislative action.
Becki Gray, vice president for outreach for the conservative John Locke Foundation, said lawmakers want to turn the page in 2017 and focus on other issues, such as education and the economy.
"There may be some attention there to make it right, but I think the ultimate decision on HB2 will be decided through the courts," Gray said.