Politics & Government

Charlotte City Council twice rejected a deal on HB2. What changed?

Charlotte City Council votes to rescind LGBT ordinance

Following a surprise move by the Charlotte City Council, Gov. Pat McCrory called for a special legislative session Wednesday to consider repealing House Bill 2.
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Following a surprise move by the Charlotte City Council, Gov. Pat McCrory called for a special legislative session Wednesday to consider repealing House Bill 2.

Seven months ago, Charlotte City Council considered a symbolic repeal of its nondiscrimination ordinance in hopes that the General Assembly would repeal House Bill 2.

Council members rejected that deal – and another one like it in September.

So why did they accept a similar deal Monday?

Republicans say it’s all about politics. Charlotte Democrats say it’s because they finally have a “concrete deal” to end HB2.

In an unexpected move, the council Monday voted 10-0 to rescind the ordinance that prompted state lawmakers to pass HB2, a law that among other things restricts cities’ ability to protect members of the LGBT community. They cited assurances the General Assembly would meet soon to repeal the law.

But back in May, Democrats on the council said they would not negotiate away LGBT rights and saw no reason to make the first move.

Since then, Charlotte and the state lost the NBA All-Star game, the ACC Football Championship, NCAA basketball tournament games, and other championships, conventions and job expansions and relocations.

Even using conservative estimates, the state lost tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue.

In September, the same deal was on the table again. But Mayor Jennifer Roberts announced it would not be on the agenda, and LGBT activists cheered. One official with the Human Rights Campaign called the proposal “a cheap trick.”

A day later, the city was shaken by the riots and protests over the Keith Lamont Scott police shooting. The issue faded from the spotlight.

North Carolina repealed HB2 in 2017 but left intact some of its provisions. But with Charlotte’s reputation tainted, the city is still paying to market itself to visitors.

Then came Monday’s vote, which left Roberts and council members struggling to answer why they just accepted a deal that appeared almost identical to the one they rejected in May and September.

Council Democrats said the May proposal, as well as subsequent offers, weren’t “concrete” deals and that the state made no assurances that HB2 would be repealed.

“I didn’t feel we had as much assurance (from the state) the first time,” Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, a Democrat, said Monday. “I just believe it’s the right time.”

But Republican council member Kenny Smith said that’s not true, and that the deal between the city and state hasn’t changed for months.

“My belief is we would have had a deal in May if we had repealed,” Smith said.

What has changed since May is who will be governor.

Republican Pat McCrory, who signed HB2, lost to Democrat Roy Cooper, who opposed it.

“We appreciate the governor-elect and his hard work,” Roberts said. “We have a change in our political climate. We have a split government.”

Cooper also lobbied the Charlotte council.

He called Lyles at 10 p.m. Sunday. Democrat Julie Eiselt said Cooper called her a half hour later. Other council members said they spoke with members of Cooper’s team, and the conversations helped convince them to accept the deal.

Cooper’s team also reportedly spoke with swing council members in May, urging them to reject the compromise with the legislature, according to people on the council.

In May and September, local and national LGBT groups were adamant that the City Council not accept a deal.

The Human Rights Campaign in May called the Charlotte Chamber an “anti-LGBT bully” for lobbying council members to support a compromise almost identical to what they approved Monday.

Earlier this month, when Cooper was declared winner of the hard-fought governor’s race, Chad Griffin of the HRC was part of a celebratory news conference outside the Charlotte Government Center. He said McCrory’s defeat was a “historic turning point.”

He said McCrory “picked a fight with fair-minded North Carolinians and lost.” He also said that “hate has consequences.”

The HRC issued a statement Monday that didn’t discuss whether Charlotte had done the right thing by repealing its ordinance.

“It’s time to chart a new course guided by the state’s values of dignity and respect, not discrimination and hate – and to ensure nondiscrimination protections exist in cities, towns and across the state of North Carolina,” Griffin said in the statement.

If the deal goes through, the legal impact to the LGBT community in Charlotte won’t be that significant.

Transgender individuals would no longer have to use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate in government buildings such as libraries, schools and the airport. (Though it’s not clear if anyone abided by that law anyway.)

Businesses can still decide to not serve a customer who is gay, lesbian or transgender. That was the case before Charlotte passed its ordinance in February, and it’s remained so because of HB2.

Lyles and Roberts said council members would try in 2017 to pass some form of LGBT protections, but it’s unclear how significant they might be. Council members will likely confer with the General Assembly first.

The issue will likely scramble next year’s mayoral election, in which at least three candidates are considering challenging Roberts: Democrats Lyles and State Sen. Joel Ford and Smith, a Republican.

Roberts campaigned last election on passing the nondiscrimination ordinance and had been resolute against repealing it. Lyles voted for the ordinance but had been open to a compromise.

Ford, a Democrat, had criticized Roberts for passing the ordinance when the legislature warned the city there would be consequences.

Smith will likely say the city could have saved itself from economic damage if the deal had been accepted months ago.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs