How outside pressure changed NC bathroom bill (HB2)

As of this morning, North Carolina House Republicans and the newly elected Democratic governor managed to eek out a compromise to the vastly unpopular “bathroom bill” (HB2) enacted one year ago.

This bill, which was passed  to stop local municipalities (specifically Charlotte’s city council) from creating anti-discrimination laws for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and legislates that in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates – was softened. The replacement legislation appears to anger both sides. For me, that’s progress.

When two sides are far apart on an issue and feel very strongly about it, there is very little room in between. Opponents of HB2 had little realistic recourse. The Republicans have a super majority in the house and a regular majority in the Senate. The Democratic governor beat the incumbent last November by a slim margin of less than 10,000 votes. According to the Charlotte Observer:

The compromise repealed HB2, re-set bathroom access to pre-HB2 standards and also included a moratorium preventing local governments from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances through at least 2020.

This maintains the 2015 status quo and pushes the issue forward to the next election. So why the urgency? And if one party has a veto-proof majority, then why are they negotiating to roll it back at all?

Outside pressure from non-political agents, that’s why.

The Timeline:

 Businesses: Soon after HB2 was enacted in 2016, large corporations started pulling out of the state, or announcing that they were no longer moving into the state. Politifact estimates the NC economy shrank after HB2 by hundreds of millions in 2016, and a partisan analysis estimated the cost would be $3 billion. So pressure from business world on NC legislature was not insignificant, even if it is difficult to measure accurately.

 Governor: Outside business pressure created enough of a perception that NC’s economy was suffering that the governor lost to a Democrat. The rest of the seats in the house and senate are largely noncompetitive, due to NC’s rampant gerrymandering problems.

But why today?

 NCAA: All week the NCAA (college basketball) has been stating it will not consider NC eligible to host any events for the next 6 years unless HB2 changes. They didn’t stipulate that it be repealed outright, but rather that it be at least amended. The deadline for that change was today. The governor and the house republicans reached a compromise last last night.

North Carolina is obsessed with basketball – especially college basketball. This more than anything played a role in forging some compromise. The citizens of this state (including Republicans) were outraged at being excluded from their “religion” of sorts. And while much of that ire was directed at the NCAA for meddling in politics, some of that was also focused on their legislature for not working on some compromise.

So they came up with something. It’s not progress for Liberals, nor it is a regress. It’s a reset in order to attract the lost business revenue and sports events. Charlotte lost it’s right to host sports events this year as a result of HB2, and that high profile consequence of passing nationally unpopular legislation was starting to put cracks in the solid Republican control of the state.

What it means

This is a lesson for all agents of social change. Even if your side has no chance of changing leaders because of the unfairness of the election process, you still have economic power. On a national level that economic power resides in trade policy that other countries hold with the USA. Loss of wealth does threaten an oligarchy, no matter how conservative their views may be.

This was not an outright win for the left – but merely an example of a compromise where the political party in power was holding all the cards. It was really a “power” vs. “money” kind of negotiation, given the conservative super majority.

Consider this: had the governor also been republican, would they have done this? Maybe. But there the NCAA would have been at the table instead, and the compromise would have given up less. Rolling things back will obviously open the door for more bad bills that are veto-proof, and maybe this is all a charade.  But I tend to think that NCAA will easily revoke what they bestowed in that case too. The difference is that now everyone knows that the conservatives are susceptible to economic pressure. So more economic pressure will be applied.
I offer more lessons on social change in my book:

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