Charlotte, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory called lawmakers back to Raleigh for a special session on Wednesday and asked them to "reconsider" House Bill 2, a law that has garnered national opprobrium for how it deals with LGBT rights, particularly the use of bathrooms by transgender individuals.
McCrory made his announcement after the Charlotte City Council on Monday morning repealed the local nondiscrimination ordinance that sparked the legislature to pass House Bill 2 this spring.
"I have always publicly advocated a repeal of the overreaching Charlotte ordinance," McCrory said before pointing out the political maneuvering that led to the special session.
"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," he said.
The repeal effort is apparently part of a carefully orchestrated dance.
In their repeal measure Monday morning, Charlotte City Council members included language that the local rules would be repealed only if lawmakers pulled back House Bill 2 by Dec. 31.
"The Charlotte City Council is deeply dedicated to protecting the rights of all people from discrimination and, with House Bill 2 repealed, will be able to pursue that priority for our community," read a statement issued on behalf of the council.
Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, who blamed House Bill 2 for economic and reputation losses suffered by North Carolina in his bid to unseat McCrory, said, "Full repeal will help to bring jobs, sports and entertainment events back and will provide the opportunity for strong LGBT protections in our state."
Like McCrory, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger blamed Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts for keeping House Bill 2 on the books.
Earlier this year, Charlotte passed the ordinance that would have required that businesses allow people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. The General Assembly responded with House Bill 2, leading to loud arguments pro and con across the state and protest actions by business leaders, musicians who canceled concerts in North Carolina and the withdrawal of the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA men's basketball tournaments.
"For businesses that are looking to our area for a place that is so progressive, that definitely sends the wrong message," said Vernessa Roberts with the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.
Although House Bill 2 was said to be aimed at overruling the Charlotte law, it went further, delving into areas of employment law and voiding other nondiscrimination measures.
Monday's actions came as a surprise to some political observers, who had just witnessed a pair of raucous special sessions last week.
In one session, members of the General Assembly provided $200 million in disaster relief to those affected by Hurricane Matthew and wildfires in the western part of the state. During a second special session, called only hours before it convened, legislators moved to strip Cooper of certain appointment powers before he took office.
Cooper, a Democrat, defeated McCrory, a Republican, during November's election. Many political analysts place at least some of the blame for McCrory's loss on House Bill 2. The law has also been blamed for economic losses in the state.
"It's been 271 days since the shameful and archaic HB2 was first passed, and the entire country has witnessed its devastating impact. It's time for state lawmakers to repeal HB2 and begin repairing the harm this bill has done to people and the damage it has done to North Carolina's reputation and economy," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a group that has advocated for the law's repeal.
Rank-and-file lawmakers say they are uneasy about whatever deal has been struck and could not say for sure that the deal would be consummated.
"The repeal of the Charlotte ordinance means HB2 is no longer necessary," said Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg. "There have been a lot of behind-the-scenes negations on this issue for months, and at this point, Charlotte has taken a concrete action, and I appreciate them doing that."
Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, said that he would like to vote for a repeal bill, but he was skeptical about what else might be included.
"In a vacuum, a pure repeal bill that does nothing else but repeal HB2? Absolutely, I'll vote for that," Martin said. "But like any legislation, I want to wait and see what we're presented with and what else is thrown in with it."
Since the potential deal to repeal HB2 was announced, Tami Fitzgerald with the North Carolina Values Coalition has been busy contacting lawmakers around the state.
"We think it's ridiculous to be considering any type of repeal of House Bill Two," she said. "I would urge all the legislators that voted for House Bill Two stand strong on it."