HB2 Repeal Fails After North Carolina Republicans Add Last-Minute Poison Pill

HB2 is extraordinarily unpopular throughout North Carolina.

Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

A legislative effort to repeal HB2, North Carolina’s malicious and deeply unpopular anti-LGBTQ law, failed on Wednesday after Republicans added a poison pill that violated the terms of a bargain struck earlier in the week. The debacle ensures that HB2 will remain a flashpoint in state and national politics well into the new year and keeps alive a legal challenge to the law. There are few lessons to be gleaned from Wednesday’s futile stab at a compromise, but there is one enduring moral to this story: The North Carolina GOP is never to be trusted under any circumstances.

This latest attempt to repeal HB2—which has now cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars through an economic boycott—should’ve been simple. Republicans have long insisted that the law was passed solely because the city of Charlotte enacted an LGBTQ nondiscrimination law. Although the Charlotte measure was just a generic nondiscrimination measure, nearly identical to those already in effect in 20 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia, Republicans threw a fit. They falsely alleged that the Charlotte ordinance endangered women and children by allowing sexual predators to assault them in bathrooms. HB2 nullified the Charlotte ordinance—and, Republicans declared, would remain on the books until Charlotte repealed its law.

On Monday, Charlotte did just that, repealing every provision to which Republicans had objected on the condition that the legislature repeal HB2 by the end of the year. In response, outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory called a special legislative session to repeal HB2 on Wednesday. But on Tuesday night, Dallas Woodhouse, the deeply deranged executive director of the North Carolina GOP, wrote that Charlotte had “lied directly to the people” and broken its promise. Charlotte, Woodhouse discovered, had retained provisions of its code that prohibited the city from hiring contractors who have discriminated against subcontractors on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Although Republican legislators had never objected to this minor protection, Woodhouse asserted that it was part of the deal. “The HB2 blood is now stain soaked on [Charlotte’s] hands and theirs alone,” he wrote.

By all accounts, Charlotte was not aware that the legislature opposed this particular provision. To prove its good faith, the city council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday morning, formally repealing the entirety of its ordinance—including the protections against discriminatory contractors. This repeal took effect immediately; it was not conditioned upon the legislature rescinding HB2.

But that wasn’t enough for Republican legislators, who decided on Wednesday afternoon to alter the terms of the deal. The repeal bill they proposed included a poison pill: a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances for six months. (Because Republicans hold a supermajority in the legislature, this “cooling off period” could easily be extended in six months’ time.) Democrats balked; the compromise they agreed to did not include such a moratorium. Pretty soon, local reporters and Democratic legislators were summing up the GOP’s position with a depressingly apt Star Wars reference:

In the end, Democrats refused to support a repeal bill that included a moratorium, sensing that the GOP was not a trustworthy negotiating partner, and Republican leaders refused to budge. The session adjourned as protesters shouted “Shame!” from the galleries. Republican legislators blamed Democrats for the continued existence of HB2, though it was they who flouted the agreement and spurred the collapse of the compromise.

There are two losers here. The first, of course, is North Carolina, which will continue to suffer under a painful boycott for a law that remarkably few North Carolinians actually support. The second is Charlotte, whose city council got badly played by the GOP. While Charlotte’s initial repeal bill conditioned the rescission of its ordinance on legislative action, its second repeal bill—the one Republicans forced it to pass on Wednesday morning—was complete and unconditional. In effect, the GOP tricked Charlotte into revoking its nondiscrimination ordinance without repealing HB2 in return. With any luck, the city council will take to heart a lesson we have all learned in 2016: Never, ever place your trust in the vindictive, duplicitous North Carolina Republican Party.