Three days after Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2, his general counsel told a former legal colleague that the governor battled the legislature over the bill that limited protections for LGBT individuals, according to emails obtained by the Observer.
“Bob, here are the facts: We fought against this bill,” Bob Stephens said in a March 26 email to Bob Turner, a lawyer in Charlotte. “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.”
Stephens’ comments contrast with McCrory’s defense of the measure in recent months, even in the face of major sports boycotts of the state.
In his email, Stephens said the governor’s office talked to a “large number of legislators,” but they passed the bill anyway.
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“And don’t tell me the Governor should have vetoed the bill,” Stephens wrote. “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.”
McCrory signed HB2 into law in March to nullify a Charlotte ordinance, which had generated controversy by protecting transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity. HB2 also overrode local ordinances around the state that would have expanded protections for the LGBT community.
HB2 has spurred corporations to call off expansion projects, sports conferences to pull games and entertainers to cancel performances. The law has also become a major issue in McCrory’s re-election bid against Democrat Roy Cooper, with McCrory standing behind the legislation and saying critics are playing politics.
The Observer received thousands of pages of emails on Monday after the paper filed a lawsuit over a 6-month-old public records request.
Stephens took a leave of absence in 2013 from Charlotte law firm Stephens Hamilton Stephens Steele + Martin to serve as McCrory’s chief legal counsel.
The email exchange began when Turner, who had previously worked with Stephens at the Horack Talley law firm, sent an email to the governor’s office earlier that day criticizing HB2.
“I’m a Republican but you have completely lost my confidence,” Turner wrote. “Ask Bob Stephens my (former) law partner. You have caved to right wing, actually, redneck types. Guess how much this will make our state be affected by loss of jobs and events bringing money to the communities. Sow what you reap. You have put your political future over the state interest I feel sorry for your (sic).”
In his response, Stephens said if Turner disagreed with the bill, he should contact legislators Bob Rucho, Dan Bishop, Phil Berger or others.
“The Governor is always the lightning rod for these things,” Stephens said. “Not fair.”
McCrory signed HB2 on the same day it passed the legislature. He later favored legislation that made one change – the restoration of the right to sue for discrimination in North Carolina state. That measure received approval at the end of the short session in June.