Behind the Scenes: How Roy Cooper Blocked the Repeal of HB2

Something unbelievable happened last week. 

After months of heated rhetoric and demands for the repeal of House Bill 2, Roy Cooper ordered his liberal Democrat allies in the State Senate to vote AGAINST repealing HB2. 

On a straight up or down vote in the State Senate, every single one of the Senate Democrats (highlighted in yellow) voted against repealing HB2.


So nine months after the passage of HB2, how did we get to the point where the only people willing to vote to repeal HB2 were 16 Republican State Senators?

It started in February of 2016, when despite repeated warnings from Gov. Pat McCrory and its local legislators, the Charlotte City Council passed a radical new ordinance that required all private businesses, public buildings, churches and schools in the city to allow men and women to use whichever locker room, changing facility and bathroom they felt like using, without regard to their gender.

In fact, Charlotte – through either the incompetence or deceitfulness of city attorney Bob Hagemann – expressly banned as discriminatory all sex-specific locker rooms, changing rooms and bathrooms in the city.  It’s not tough to understand why this is problematic, aside from the fact that it violates state law.

WATCH: Charlotte Rep. Dan Bishop explains the ordinance


Right away, Attorney General Cooper could have told Charlotte that banning sex-specific bathrooms and changing facilities violated state law. Several of my colleagues joined me in signing a letter to Cooper urging him to tell Charlotte its new ordinance violated state law, but he refused to do his job. 

READ: Full Letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper


In March of 2016, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and House Speaker Tim Moore exercised their constitutional authority to call the legislature into special session to pass a state law – now known as House Bill 2 – that restored the right of private businesses, churches and non-profits like the YMCA to make their own decisions about how to set up bathrooms and locker rooms in their own buildings. 

The law also required public schools and government buildings to maintain separate women’s and men’s bathrooms and locker rooms.  And the law allowed local governments to make special accommodations, such as single-use bathrooms and changing rooms for transgender citizens, in public schools and government buildings.

Following the passage of HB2, national far-left activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign invaded North Carolina and instigated boycotts by musicians and sporting events. While even liberal media outlets like WRAL TV have reported the impact of HB2 was just "a tiny ripple on the state economy", our state's image has suffered because of the boycotts. 

"House Bill 2's impact on the state economy has been about 0.1 percent."

Beginning in May of 2016, with the help of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Governor McCrory, Speaker Moore and I began discussing with the Charlotte City Council the possibility of a “reset” on the bathroom issues in the State.  The basic idea has varied little since May:  the Charlotte City Council would completely repeal the city’s bathroom ordinance and stand down on the issue moving forward, in exchange for the state fully repealing HB2.

READ:  In a break with Charlotte mayor, 4 council members meet legislative leaders over HB2 

(Charlotte Observer)

On more than a half-dozen occasions since May, various members of the Charlotte City Council indicated to Republicans in the legislature that they had the votes to repeal the bathroom ordinance and were moving forward.  Each and every time, they failed to act.  They usually cited the influence of Mayor Jennifer Roberts and then Democratic candidate for Governor Roy Cooper as the reason they chose not to act.   Cooper and Roberts share the same political consultant, and news reports have chronicled their meetings about how to maximize their political opportunities.

READ:  McCrory suggests politics was agenda when Cooper, Roberts met during protests 

(Charlotte Observer) 

In September of this year, Governor McCrory made a tremendous push to get a repeal-for-repeal deal done.  The Speaker and I publicly backed him on this and promised to do everything we could to repeal HB2 if Charlotte fully repealed its bathroom ordinance and stood down on the bathroom issue.  Unfortunately, Mayor Roberts and Roy Cooper lobbied the City Council against acting in September, and another opportunity was missed.

READ / WATCH: Bipartisan coalition to pass HB2 changes fell apart amid pressure from Roy Cooper 


 READ / WATCH:  Charlotte mayor says city council won’t consider LGBT ordinance repeal Monday

Several times since the election, the Charlotte City Council has asked if the repeal-for-repeal deal was still possible.  Speaker Moore and I are men of our word, and have continued to tell the City Council we stood by our public statements.  In early December, the Charlotte Council tried again to take up repeal of its ordinance, and again failed to act. At that point, we had little hope Charlotte could ever follow through on the deal by fully repealing its bathroom ordinance.

Then, last week, now Governor-Elect Roy Cooper approached us to ask if a full repeal for full repeal deal was still possible. When we told him it was, Cooper released Roberts and other liberal Democrats on the Charlotte Council to move on their repeal. The Council met first thing Monday morning, and claimed the Charlotte ordinance had been rescinded in its entirety.

This is where the wheels started to fall off.  Cooper and Roberts moved the goal posts for the compromise in a number of ways that eroded trust in the Republican House and Senate caucuses, and ultimately doomed the reset on HB2.

First, Charlotte’s move was oddly conditional on the legislature repealing HB2 by December 31st. Speaker Moore and I had both told Cooper a conditional repeal was problematic for legislative Republicans. 

Second, immediately following Charlotte’s initial vote, Cooper sent a press release with a major inaccuracy: he said Speaker Moore and I would call the legislature back into session the very next day.  Every time a compromise was floated, we said Governor McCrory would have to call the legislature into session to take up repeal at his discretion. 

READ: Cooper: NC legislators will repeal HB2 on Tuesday 

(Asheville Citizen Times) 

Despite those two missteps, Governor McCrory called the session for Wednesday morning, and we pushed forward presenting the deal to our caucuses.

Then late Tuesday night, Charlotte reporter Nick Ochsner broke news that the City Council had, in fact, NOT repealed its bathroom ordinance in its entirety. It repealed only a small section - one page of a five-page ordinance - and tried to hide it until after the legislative session to repeal HB2.


By the time the legislature gaveled in at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Republicans in both chambers were frustrated and suspicious that the city reneged on its original agreement and misled the press and public about the Monday vote (that took place in a secret meeting, no less.)

Legislators’ willingness to trust that Charlotte and Cooper operated in good faith, or that they would not immediately pass another bathroom ordinance if legislators accommodated them with a repeal of HB2, waned. Adding fuel to the fire, Mayor Roberts assured the far left on Facebook that there was, in fact, a “long game,” implying the deal wasn’t what it appeared.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts' social media post, the morning of the Special Session:


To make matters worse, Democrat activists and legislators touted in national cable news appearances and on social media their plans to restore the Charlotte bathroom-sharing ordinance and pass others just like it in cities across North Carolina as soon as HB2 was out of the way. At the very least, this violated the spirit of the compromise since the day it was first proposed: a complete reset on the bathroom issue.

Equality NC Email Leading Up to the Special Session:


The original legislative plan was for the House to take up a straight repeal – under a new “House Bill 2” – and send it to the Senate. But House Republicans understandably felt too betrayed by the Council’s non-repeal and the string of broken promises from Cooper and Roberts. They decided – perhaps in hindsight, wisely – not to take it up.

And these weren’t just House reservations. Running through both caucuses was a growing sense that Republicans were playing the part of Israel in the story of the Gibeonite deception. In the book of Joshua, chapter 9, Israel is duped into making a peace covenant with the Gibeonites, a “cunning” and calculating group of people claiming to be someone they weren’t. Maybe Cooper, Jennifer Roberts, and all the activists calling to repeal HB2 likewise weren’t who they were claiming to be, our members thought. Maybe they didn’t really want a reset. Maybe they didn’t want a repeal of HB2 at all. Maybe it’s too powerful a political issue and too lucrative a fundraising tool. Maybe they’ve been duping us into a peace offering that’s really all about their survival.

When the Gibeonites are exposed, Joshua allows them to stay on his land, free of harm. He didn’t have to do this. He could have turned them over to the people of Israel, who were not as forgiving, and the Gibeonites would have suffered badly for their deception.  We likewise could have pulled the plug Wednesday, adjourned and laid the disaster back at Charlotte’s feet. But it was my view that despite eroding support, evaporating trust and mounting frustration in both caucuses, the Senate should at least attempt to salvage a compromise.

The only way was to bring a bill up for a Senate vote, and hope the House would give Cooper and Charlotte a second chance.

And after all the ploys on the left, the only way our caucus would vote, much less agree to a repeal that upheld the original agreement and truly reset this issue, was to provide for a cooling off period after the repeal. That meant a short period of time, in this case 180 days, when governments across the state could not adopt an ordinance like the one that prompted HB2.

Here’s that bill:


And here’s what the bill did:

Section 1: Repeal House Bill 2

Section 2: No Charlotte-style ordinances until after a 180-day cooling off period.

I took this to Senator Dan Blue, the Democratic leader in the Senate. And his response was encouraging. At first, the Democratic leadership found it reasonable. They were poised to support it.  It looked like we were on our way to a resolution.

Then, we weren’t. That reasonable proposal was suddenly unreasonable. The Democrats poised to support it were now poised to defeat it.

What changed?


As I said, back in September, pressure from Cooper and Roberts convinced Charlotte to keep its ordinance – and as a result HB2 – on the books through the elections. Why, you ask? Why would Roy Cooper block a deal that erases the issue he fought so vehemently in his campaign? And why would he soil a deal that he was now brokering a few months later? Killing the September deal kept a flood of national media attention on North Carolina, as more events and organizations boycotted. And with each hit, the campaign cash poured into Cooper’s political machine. Cooper wound up outraising McCrory by $8 million, and he raised nearly twice as much as the sitting governor from out-of-state donors. 

READ:  Cooper outraises McCrory in NC’s most expensive governor’s race ever 
(News & Observer) 

Cooper called the same play on Wednesday. He called into the Senate Democratic caucus and ordered each and every one of the Senate Democrats to oppose the compromise. And like Charlotte in September, the Senators followed Cooper’s orders. They became unanimously opposed to the deal their leaders found reasonable just a few hours earlier, and they demanded a straight up or down vote on HB2 repeal, without any cooling off period. Nothing short of that vote was acceptable to them.

“(A moratorium) was not a deal breaker for us because it’s reasonable,” said Sen. Joel Ford, a Charlotte Democrat. “But Cooper felt it was a deal breaker.”
- Charlotte Observer

So late Wednesday night – after all the drama, all the secrecy, all the broken promises, all the deception and all the duplicity from Cooper that had derailed a slew of reasonable compromises and a new path forward – I went back to our caucus one final time. And we found a way to give the Democrats that straight up or down vote. All but two Republicans voted to split the bill into two parts: One vote for repeal of HB2, and another for the cooling-off period. The first vote was the clean consideration of House Bill 2. We secured 16 Republican Senators, which was half of our present members, to vote yes to repeal HB2. And with the Democratic caucus’ support, that would be enough to pass the repeal, completely change the story and give you something less infuriating to read over the holidays.

Yet, when it came time to vote, every single Senate Democrat voted it down.


Remember, these are the same Democrats who have blasted HB2 since April. They’ve called it a “stain” and a “scar” and an ”embarrassment” to our state, to use some of their milder rhetorical flourishes.  They’ve said they’re horrified. Appalled. Embarrassed. They called Republicans fascists.

But their horror and embarrassment wasn’t enough to get their vote on HB2’s repeal. In fact, Senate Democrats have never voted against House Bill 2. They’ve had two opportunities: in April, when the bill was first considered, they walked out of the chamber and refused to cast a vote at all. And Wednesday, they voted to keep HB2 state law.

WATCH: Jeff Jackson, Senate Dems skip HB2 vote


Consider this: If Roy Cooper had done his job as attorney general, Charlotte’s ordinance would have been challenged and swatted down before House Bill 2. If Roy Cooper hadn’t been a candidate for governor, HB2 might have been fixed in September. And if Roy Cooper weren’t the governor-elect, it almost certainly would have been repealed Wednesday night in the State Senate.

So who really wants to keep HB2 on the books? Hopefully you see now why it’s so clear to me that repealing House Bill 2 is not what legislative Democrats – and certainly not what Roy Cooper – really want. What they, and their political allies on the far left, appear to want is the Charlotte shared bathroom policies implemented across North Carolina – in every county, every city, every business, every school and every YMCA. And unfortunately, they’re willing to let North Carolina’s image suffer to advance their own political interests. 

Never has that been clearer than it was Wednesday, and in the reactions and media reports that have followed. These folks are counting on HB2 to generate millions in outside money for their next political campaign. It’s one of the most shameful acts of conniving, political gamesmanship I’ve ever seen.

It is also clear to me that North Carolinians believe two things: 

1) HB2 has hurt our reputation and should be repealed, and  

2) Women and girls should not be forced to share locker rooms, changing rooms and bathrooms with biological males AND middle and high school boys and girls should not share the same locker rooms and bathrooms.  

But in the ten months since Charlotte passed its bathroom ordinance, Roy Cooper has never said – and the liberal media has not asked him – whether biological men should be allowed in locker rooms, changing rooms and bathrooms with women and girls, or whether middle and high school girls and boys should be forced to share locker rooms and bathrooms. Where does he stand on those issues?

I agree with Roy Cooper that the constant barrage of negativity surrounding HB2 has hurt our state's reputation. And I've now voted to repeal HB2. I stand by that vote.

But if North Carolina has any chance to move forward, both sides need to make concessions. It is time for Roy Cooper to stand with the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians and renounce his far left financial backers and their extreme goal of forcing women and girls to share locker rooms with men.

Contrary to the extreme rhetoric from the far left, most North Carolinians do not believe having separate bathrooms for men and women violates anyone's rights or puts anyone in danger.

If Roy Cooper could take that stand for common sense, we might see another seemingly unbelievable thing happen:  Republicans and Democrats working together and finding common ground to move our state past the mess created by the Charlotte bathroom ordinance and HB2.

Copyright 2016.
May not be published without permission.