On Tuesday, the NCAA ended its boycott of North Carolina after the repeal of House Bill 2, the “bathroom bill” that pushed North Carolina into the national spotlight last year. The notorious bill has been replaced by a harshly-criticized compromise bill—which removes the infamous bathroom regulation but places a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances until late 2020, effectively maintaining House Bill 2’s original prohibition of said ordinances. Today, we examine the political tradeoff made by Governor Roy Cooper who was elected to his position by a slim margin, in large part, by his campaign promise to repeal House Bill 2.
Soon after the November election, Cooper was stripped of his gubernatorial power on many fronts by an uncompromising Republican supermajority in the State House and Senate, but he held powerful leverage in the form of North Carolina’s economic hemorrhaging as a direct result of House Bill 2. Despite this, given a decent political position and an electorate that understood and accepted the tremendous difficulty of repealing House Bill 2, he chose to compromise rather than continue to apply pressure, resulting in what has been called House Bill 2.0. Though he has since expressed his dissatisfaction with the bill, Cooper’s intentions in accepting this compromise have been unclear.
If anything, this incident demonstrates the politics at play. Cooper was elected based on promised to repeal House Bill 2, a political buzzword that overshadowed everything else on his platform. Once he entered office, instead of addressing the root of the problem, he focused on only the most publicized portion of House Bill 2, employing a campaign tactic for a job that necessitates placing substance over image.
In doing so, he may have assuaged the portion of voters who voted to restore North Carolina’s public perception. But for the most affected and vulnerable portion of his constituents, those who voted with fear for their personal safety, there remains no legal protection against discrimination. This raises questions of whether Cooper truly opposed House Bill 2 or simply the reelection of Pat McCrory and whether he aims to protect his constituents or simply satisfy them. Cooper has compromised on the one piece of legislation he promised not to compromise on and has exploited votes of many activists who campaigned on his behalf in what appears to be opportunistic power play.
In November, Cooper’s victory represented the end of a year-long battle for many. In some ways, we became complacent, having elected a Democrat to be governor of North Carolina. In doing so, we made the same mistake as Cooper. We viewed the highest public office of our state through a partisan lens and placed too much faith in a single politician and party. We forgot that electing Cooper into office was not the end of our civic duty. This duty requires us to continue fighting for our state, long after we cast our ballots at the polls.
Cooper’s election failed to address the underlying problems of a state legislature that has no qualms about rescinding local governments’ abilities to establish nondiscrimination laws. For now, it remains to be seen if this compromise will reverse the economic damage of House Bill 2. Regardless, we should remain committed to protecting the rights of all our fellow North Carolinians and settle for nothing less.
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