Despite his very public defense of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law, emails reveal that Gov. Pat McCrory worked behind the scenes to try and limit the more egregious parts of HB 2.
According to emails published by The Charlotte Observer, obtained via a public records request, McCrory’s office received immense pressure and significant criticism both before and after signing HB 2, which restricts transgender people’s ability to access restrooms and prohibits local governments from passing pro-LGBT legislation.
McCrory thought the proposed law went too far and tried to communicate that to legislative leaders, his emails show. But his staff was inundated with correspondence demanding the governor take some kind of action to counteract the Charlotte City Council, which had passed an ordinance that prohibited discrimination against LGBT people.
Social conservatives were outraged at the Council’s move, and demanded that McCrory and Republican leaders in Raleigh step in to stop the ordinance from taking effect.
McCrory, who is up for re-election this year, did not want to risk losing support in what was likely to be a close election between him and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper. And many social conservatives made it clear that they would abandon McCrory if he didn’t toe the line.
One email warned that Republicans “better get off their butts and do something” if they didn’t want to be swept out of office.
Frank Turek, a Christian author and speaker, wrote to Fred Steen, McCrory’s chief lobbyist in North Carolina’s General Assembly, warning that McCrory could face consequences if he didn’t act to undercut the Charlotte ordinance. Turek copied other activists and House Speaker Tim Moore on the message, so the governor could see he was being watched closely.
“This kind of inaction is exactly what is feeding the anti-establishment rage,” Turek wrote. “If the Republicans don’t want to be engulfed by the (Donald) Trump wave, they better get off their butts and do something before this dangerous ordinance goes into effect in April. Taking action now is not only the right thing to do, it will be politically popular.”
When McCrory objected to the financial cost of calling a special session of the legislature, former Cabarrus County Commissioner Jason Oesterreich accused the governor of being “willing to expose dressing women and children to predators and allow our little girls to potentially see a naked man standing in front of them as they simply walk into a locker room.”
He also said that he would be “voting for someone other than McCrory in the general election” if no action was taken.
While McCrory did not call the special session, Republicans in the legislature were more than happy to take a stand, and rammed through HB 2 in a matter of hours. Feeling the pressure from the conservative flank of his party, McCrory eventually signed the bill into law.
But the emails obtained by the Observer also reveal that Bob Stephens, the governor’s general counsel, tried to defend McCrory against criticism for signing the law.
When Bob Turner, a lawyer in Charlotte, accused the governor of caving in to “right wing, actually, redneck types” and warned that the state would lose jobs and events because of a backlash against the law, Stephens argued that Turner should register his complaints with legislative leaders. Stephens said it was “not fair” to blame McCrory for pushing the law.
“Bob, here are the facts: We fought against this bill,” Stephens wrote back. “You have no idea how hard the Governor worked to limit it. He told the legislature that it went too far. We lobbied against it and even drafted our own version of the bill but it was not accepted. And don’t tell me the Governor should have vetoed the bill. His veto would have been overridden in a matter of days and we’d be right where we are now. If you have other ideas about what the Governor should have done, let me know.”
The emails also reveal the business community’s negative response to the decision to sign the law into effect. The NBA notified the governor’s office that it was “deeply concerned” about the law, and raised the prospect of moving the 2017 All-Star Game, scheduled to be held in Charlotte, to another state. It eventually did relocate the event to New Orleans.
After PayPal announced it was scuttling expansion projects in North Carolina, John “Sandy” Acton, president of real estate firm Glenwood Properties, forwarded an email to Stephens, writing: “This is absolutely unbelievable!”
Stephens responded: “That’s just one of many. Raleigh and Durham are now reporting cancellations of events. I’m afraid that some of the tech companies in the (Research Triangle Park) are going to be next.”
Acton said that Georgia now looked good in the eyes of the business community because of Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to veto a “religious freedom” bill that was widely perceived to be anti-LGBT.
Another email, from Kevin Walker, at the Greer Walker accounting firm in Charlotte, expressed his disappointment to Stephens that McCrory did not issue a veto. Walker predicted the state’s reputation as “a business friendly and inclusionary state” would take a hit as a result of HB 2.
What’s most amazing is that, despite feeling the law had gone too far, McCrory has continued to defend his decision to sign it. Instead of acknowledging that he had some misgivings, the governor has instead adopted the stance that the bill is necessary for public safety and privacy.
Perhaps it was a wise political calculation in order to avoid angering Republican base voters. Tami Fitzgerald, of the N.C. Values Coalition, sent a group email that copied conservative and religious leaders and urged them to rally behind McCrory’s re-election campaign. As a way of circling the wagons around the governor, she suggested pushing back against major corporations who expressed opposition to HB 2.
“Only the NBA has made a threat, and it was not very overt,” she wrote. “I think if we push back loudly, [corporations] won’t want to risk angering the majority of their consumers.”
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