As the fallout from HB2 continues to pile up, one bad news story at a time, I am reminded of the time a friend of mine drove from Washington, DC to Birmingham, Alabama, unintentionally by way of Miami, Florida. (In case anyone is wondering, Miami is not exactly on a direct route, being about 10 hours further south than one needs to drive when traveling to west Alabama from points north and east). When I asked my friend why he took the scenic route (this was before the advent of GPS), he answered that he didn’t have a map, wasn’t quite sure where all the other exits went, and felt like he should just keep driving south, because he knew eventually he’d hit water.
Right about now, Governor McCrory is behaving a lot like my friend. When he signed HB2, he got on the freeway blithely unaware that he was going in the wrong direction. And after weeks of business backlash, falling tourism revenues, lost economic development projects, national and international scorn, and most recently, a federal lawsuit, he still can’t quite figure out how to get off.
Caught between a restive social conservative base, an openly dismissive legislature and a rapidly growing opposition, he just keeps driving, doubling down in support of a law that allows private businesses to deny service to gays and lesbians, tries to write transgender individuals out of existence by requiring them to use the bathroom of the biological sex on their birth certificate, and—perhaps mostly shockingly—eliminates 35-year-old state civil rights protections that prohibited employers from firing their workers because of their race, religion, or gender. Thanks to HB2, your boss can now fire you without fear of a state court lawsuit because you’re black. Or because you’re white. Or because you’re a woman. Or, yes, because you’re an evangelical Christian who supports HB2.
While HB2 certainly puts North Carolina on the wrong side of history, the Governor’s unwillingness to change course keeps the state going further and further in the wrong direction, as he passes one exit after another.
Have companies like PayPal, DeutscheBank, and Red Ventures canceled or reconsidered planned expansions due to HB2, costing thousands of jobs? Doesn’t matter, blame equality advocates for a “smear campaign” and keep driving.
Does HB2 give North Carolina the dubious distinction of joining Mississippi as the only state in the nation that doesn’t protect workers from workplace discrimination (and when we’re in the same category as Mississippi in the category of civil rights, this should be a clue that we’re headed in the wrong direction)? Doesn’t matter, keep driving.
Are the NCAA, the ACC, and the NBA thinking about pulling out of North Carolina because they can’t support the blatant discrimination enshrined in HB2? Doesn’t matter, pretend it’s not happening, keep driving.
Have more than 200 major multi-national corporations—many of them major contributors to the Governor’s campaign—publicly opposed HB2 because it’s bad for business? Doesn’t matter, threaten business lobbyists with legislative retribution, keep driving.
Are poll numbers for the Governor and key state lawmakers cratering? Doesn’t matter, the election is more than five months away, everyone will have forgotten about HB2 by then, just keep driving.
And most recently, does HB2 violate the Civil Rights Act, threatening the loss of $3 billion in federal funding for K-12 and higher education, job training, and other core state government programs? Doesn’t matter, sue the federal government for supposedly overreaching its authority, ignore the historical parallels of southern governors claiming the federal government can’t enforce civil rights laws and just keep driving.
Each one of these developments represented a real opportunity for the Governor and the General Assembly to get off the freeway, repeal HB2, and get the state moving back in the right direction.
Instead, unfortunately, they just kept driving. After all, eventually they’ll hit water.
And when it happens, the real question is whether North Carolina will drown before they will.
Allan Freyer is the Director of the Workers’ Rights project at the North Carolina Justice Center.