But is disappointment with the compromise and a flurry of new anti-LGBT proposals from the General Assembly continuing to hurt the state’s reputation? And can it recover?
“I would say it’s definitely not all over with the repeal,” said Matthew Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management.
With more than $2 billion under management, Trillium has offices in Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon and Durham. They were part of a group of investing firms handling more than $2 trillion that warned against the economic impact of HB2 in September of last year.
Much of the media attention focused on whether the NCAA and ACC would return events to basketball-centric North Carolina, Patsky said. But the larger business community and many individual investors and investment groups continue to see the state as headed in the wrong direction on the sort of diversity they see as necessary for true growth. Several states have also kept in place their travel bans.
“As a publicity stunt, was the repeal successful? Sure,” Patsky said. “But you haven’t seen many of the companies that said they were pulling out or not expanding in North Carolina saying that they’re now coming back. You haven’t seen some of the musicians and entertainment acts say that they think this is enough.”
The truth, Patsky said, is the continued economic impact on North Carolina may be impossible to fully assess because it isn’t known which companies simply aren’t considering the state anymore or how often it isn’t even making it into a list of finalists for expansion or new construction.
“I can tell you that for our clients and for many business leaders, the repeal that was done wasn’t enough,” Patsky said. “This came to be known as ‘The Bathroom Bill’ but it wasn’t that – it was so much more. It had to do with many larger rights issues and legal protections.”
A number of bills this legislative session that would further target LGBT people haven’t helped matters, Patsky said. While bills like the one to defy the U.S. Supreme Court and again outlaw same-sex marriage in North Carolina did not get a hearing, they did make national and international headlines. The suggestion that the General Assembly could force UNC schools to withdraw from the ACC if they again choose to pull games from the state also led to an uneasy feeling lawmakers may have more controversial bills in store, Patsky said.
“It’s all considerably damaged the image of North Carolina nationally,” Patsky said. “It had an image of being one of the more hospitable places for diversity within the South. The number of people who retire to North Carolina in the South – that has a lot to do with the acceptance of diversity there. That reputation was severely damaged by the passage of House Bill 2, trying to keep parts of it in place and these new bills.”
In retrospect, Patsky said, the business and investing communities didn’t do enough to keep pressure on full HB2 repeal after November’s election.
“I wish we had done more,” Patsky said. “But we thought, ‘That’s Cooper’s issue and he’ll take care of it,’ We should have continued to hammer. We saw fires coming up everywhere and we got distracted. If we had put out this fire permanently, perhaps it would have put out the other fires.”
There is disappointment with Cooper and the Democrats over caving to the compromised repeal, Patsky said, but many – himself included – see the pragmatic position from which the decision was made.
“I recognize they were in an awkward position where this may have been the best they could get at this moment in time, even if it wasn’t what they were promised,” Patsky said. “You’ve seen the districts so gerrymandered that the Democrats are in an incredible disadvantage. For them to retake the House and Senate — that could take decades. So they may have felt this was the best they were going to get at this time.”
The flap over HB2 and the compromise repeal did have some silver linings, Patsky said.
“A good outcome I would say is that it’s sent a message to all as to what can happen if you pass these laws,” Patsky said. “The transgender community had become an easy target for the far right. If you’re from a particularly rural, conservative district they figured nobody knew a transgender person and it was all right. So you saw these bills spring up all over the place, repeating the language from HB2 almost identically.”
Texas’ Senate Bill 6 has met serious opposition, Patsky said – which may be a legacy of the firestorm created by HB2.
“I think it may have had the chilling effect of putting people on notice that that wasn’t necessarily a good approach, that it wouldn’t hold,” Patsky said.
In the end, Patsky said, North Carolina may be a microcosm of a more nakedly confrontational and intolerant politics that is on the rise in many places in the country.
“If you can get to good people who are on the Republican side who are willing to have private conversations about it, they’ll express their own problems with what’s happening,” Patsky said. “There was a lack of real thought process and review with a lot of what happened with House Bill 2 and then feeling backed into the corner.”
“Hopefully, people have watched and learned from that in other places,” Patsky said.