The closest and most expensive governor’s race in North Carolina history has ended with Gov. Pat McCrory conceding in a video message posted to his official YouTube channel. By conceding, McCrory becomes the first incumbent governor in the state’s history to lose a re-election bid, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
McCrory made the announcement on Monday, during the final hours of a recount of ballots in heavily Democratic Durham County. On Sunday night, Durham election officials announced that with nearly 53,000 of the ballots recounted, Cooper had gained three votes over his original tally, and McCrory had lost one. As a result, McCrory was left with few other options. Because Cooper currently leads by more than 10,000 votes, McCrory is not entitled to an automatic statewide recount of ballots. He could request one, but it would have to be financed using his own campaign’s money, not taxpayer funds.
“It’s time to celebrate our democratic process and respect what I see to be the ultimate outcome of the closest North Carolina governor’s race in modern history,” McCrory said in the video. “Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process, I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken, and we should do everything we can to support the 75th governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper. The McCrory administration team will assist in every way to help the new administration make a smooth transition.”
But the hotly contested governor’s race had long served as a proxy battle over North Carolina’s controversial HB 2 law, which restricts transgender people’s ability to access restrooms or other facilities other than those designated for their biological sex at birth. The law also overturns existing nondiscrimination ordinances in cities and counties that seek to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Email correspondence from the governor’s office reveals that McCrory was initially hesitant to sign the law, but he eventually did. Cooper, meanwhile, refused to defend the HB 2 law in court, saying he felt it was unconstitutional. The law is currently being contested as part of several lawsuits.
Yet despite the concept behind HB 2 remaining popular in the state, several polls showed that a majority of voters felt that it had hurt the state’s reputation and economy, particularly after the cancellation of several major sporting events, and refusals by corporations to expand or set up shop in the Tar Heel State because of concerns over HB 2.
LGBT advocates had hoped that a McCrory defeat might give anti-LGBT forces in other states pause before attempting to pass laws similar to HB 2.
“Pat McCrory’s reign of discrimination is finally over. McCrory’s stubborn and reckless support of HB 2 cost him this election, and his defeat sends a powerful warning to lawmakers across the country that targeting LGBTQ people will not be tolerated,” Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Governor-elect Roy Cooper and fair-minded lawmakers to repeal HB2. It’s way past time to repair the harm inflicted on North Carolina’s people, reputation and economy.”
“There was only one state in the country where transgender people’s access to bathrooms was on the ballot, and that was North Carolina. Transgender people won,” Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “Other governors and state legislators should take note: history is on the side of transgender equality, not transgender exclusion. People want an inclusive society, where all people including transgender people are respected and safe.”
Yet for all the post-election posturing, it is unlikely that a change in governor will lead to a repeal of the law. Republican pickups in rural areas meant Democrats enjoyed a net gain of only one seat in the State House, and lost one seat in the State Senate. As a result, Cooper will face immense pressure to repeal the law, but may not be able to deliver on his campaign promise, says Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans.
“To smear Pat McCrory as an anti-LGBT governor does a disservice to a number of things: most notably, that he was the first Republican governor to stand up, following the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling, and call ‘for healing on all sides,’ while instructing county clerks in North Carolina to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately,” says Angelo. “That hardly sounds like the actions of a governor who is vehemently anti-LGBT.”
Angelo also notes that McCrory had vetoed SB 2, a measure that allowed magistrates to claim a religious exemption from having to solemnize same-sex marriages. But the Republican-led legislature overrode that veto, and would have behaved similarly had McCrory chosen to veto HB 2. While Angelo does not agree with McCrory’s decision to campaign on defending the law, which he says is flawed, he also believes that demonizing McCrory at the expense of ignoring vehemently anti-LGBT members of the state legislature, paints a skewed picture of the situation. It is also unclear, he says, how other states considering similar laws will behave following McCrory’s defeat.
“I think McCrory’s loss will be used as a political cudgel, and at least, short-term, may slow the momentum of a number of these [anti-LGBT] pieces of legislation that have begun to pop up around the country, and, if nothing else, show that when the party of small government tries to intervene in people’s lives in the most intimate of spaces, the political fallout is tremendous, and can actually end political careers,” says Angelo.
“It doesn’t surprise me that LGBT organizations on the left are holding up McCrory’s scalp on this issue,” he adds. “But I don’t think we’ll ultimately see how deeply chilling an effect McCrory’s loss has on anti-LGBT legislation in the states until we see how well Roy Cooper delivers on the promises he made during his campaign to fight HB 2 and repeal it.”
Watch McCrory’s video message below: