Since its passage in March, the struggle over House Bill 2 has underlined an already apparent divide between urban and rural North Carolina.
The law began as a struggle between the conservative majority in the North Carolina legislature and the Charlotte city council, which moved to provide broad anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
But with last week’s announcement that the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Atlantic Coast Conference will pull college championship games from the state over the law, political experts and new polls suggest the tide of political opinion is decisively turning against the measure.
“We have seen the urban vs. rural divide in play on this issue, with the leadership of the General Assembly elected largely from rural areas striking at urban areas on what has become a very ideological issue,” said Dr. Michael Bitzer, professor of Political Science and History at Catawba College. “But I think the ACC cuts across that.”
The ACC announcement was different and struck more deeply, Bitzer said, because the conference began and is still headquartered in North Carolina.
“It was born in this state, bred in this state and it is such an important cultural aspect to this state,” Bitzer said. “The ACC is in the state’s blood. For native North Carolinians, as well as folks moving into this state, school loyalties are just as strong if not stronger than political party loyalties.”
For that reason it is hard for Gov. Pat McCrory and the conservative leadership of the General Assembly to take the political posture they have with so many other groups and companies boycotting the state over HB2.
“You can say that PayPal is from California and you can say that the NCAA is a huge conglomerate only out to make money,” Bitzer said. “You can charge people with hypocrisy and say they’re out to hurt North Carolina. But the ACC is us.”
The Elon poll found that 50 percent of those polled oppose the law, 40 percent support it. Another 7 percent said they had no opinion and 3.5 percent said they weren’t sure.
The PPP poll, released Wednesday, asked a series of specific questions about respondents’ feelings on HB2.
In the poll, 59 percent said they think HB2 is hurting the state while 23 percent said they think it’s helping the state. The poll found 59 percent think the law has had a negative impact on North Carolina while 10 percent think it has had a positive impact.
On the question of the state’s reputation, 53 percent said they think the law has had a negative impact while 21 percent said they think it has had a positive impact.
When asked if HB2 has achieved its stated goal of making North Carolina safer, 49 percent said it has not while 31 percent said that it has.
Those sorts of results show a solidifying negative opinion of the law, Bitzer said – but he noted that within the PPP poll, party identification was still a strong indicator of peoples’ views on the law.
“If you look at it within party identification, 68 percent of Democrats say it’s had a negative impact,” Bitzer said. “Only 27 percent of Republicans say it has a negative impact. A plurality of Republicans polled – 33 percent – say it hasn’t made a difference.”
That shows continued ideological entrenchment, Bitzer said.
“It fits into a mindset that we know from research,” Bitzer said. “If you’re of one political mindset or another, you’re going to accept information that reinforces your perspective and discount information that challenges your partisan perspective.”
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said it’s past time to abandon that ideological entrenchment and repeal HB2 – something for which a number of GOP lawmakers broke ranks to advocate in the wake of the NCAA and ACC losses.
Greensboro, home city of the ACC, has been hit hard by the college championship losses.
The city will lose four ACC championships: women’s basketball, women’s golf and men’s and women’s swimming and diving.
The city, long known as “tournament town,” also lost three NCAA tournaments: first- and second-round games in the men’s basketball tournament and the Division III men’s and women’s soccer championship matches in December.
The financial losses to the city will be major, Vaughan said – but the city coffers aren’t what she thinks about most.
“When we talk about the city of Greensboro losing $17.1 million because of these championship losses, it’s not really the city and the coliseum we’re talking about,” Vaughan said. “It’s the hourly workers who depend on these events and the paychecks to make their budgets work. It’s non-profits working concessions to raise money, restaurant workers and their suppliers, linen rental, catering businesses…it just keeps rippling out.”
Unfortunately, Vaughan said, McCrory and the conservative leadership of the General Assembly still seem more concerned with painting Charlotte as the political villain than solving the problem.
Greensboro City Councilman Justin Outling agreed.
He pointed to a deal floated last week for a potential repeal of HB2 only if the Charlotte City Council rescinded its ordinance – something Outling said is completely unnecessary.
“The General Assembly can act tomorrow to fix this,” Outling said of HB2. “Charlotte cannot. The Charlotte ordinance became void with the passage of HB2 and there’s nothing Charlotte needs to do for the General Assembly to repeal this law. It’s disingenuous to suggest otherwise, to suggest that the city of Charlotte is to blame here. To me it’s politics at its worst.”
Outling said the conservative majority in Raleigh may not be getting its votes from the large cities most impacted by business boycotts and the recent championship losses, but the damage has become a statewide problem.
“When Charlotte and Raleigh and Greensboro and Durham and Cary are highly successful, the state is highly successful,” Outling said. “There’s the economic impact – but there’s also the impact on our identity, what people think of our state and we think of ourselves.”
“You would be surprised, living outside the state, how many people know about Greensboro because of basketball tournaments,” Outling said. “They know about Raleigh and Durham because of Research Triangle Park. Now we’re known for this. That’s not what we want.”