Politics & Government

Will support for HB2 repeal hurt Gov. Cooper with his allies?

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper cseward@newsobserver.com

As Republican leaders were announcing a deal to repeal House Bill 2 late Wednesday night, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was in the midst of a heated phone conversation with LGBT leaders.

The compromise was a bad deal for civil rights, the leaders of the Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC told Cooper. They pleaded with him to oppose the measure and “do the right thing,” according to sources familiar with the conversation.

As far as they were concerned, it did not end well.

Now Cooper, like the lawmakers in both parties who supported the compromise that passed Thursday, finds himself at odds with some of his most loyal supporters.

LGBT groups, the NAACP, the ACLU and other progressive groups appealed for a “no” vote on HB142. State NAACP President William Barber called it “anti-worker, anti-access to the courts, and anti-LGBT.”

The deal also places Cooper at odds with Charlotte’s mayor – and fellow Democrat – Jennifer Roberts.

“This is not a repeal, nor is this a reset,” Roberts said in a tweet. “This is a rejection of Charlotte’s and North Carolina’s progressive, inclusive values. We are not HB2, and we are not today’s false repeal.”

Conservatives also blasted the compromise. The N.C. Values Coalition and Christian Action League urged members to oppose it. In the end, 40 House Republicans and 30 House Democrats voted for it. In the Senate, 23 Republicans and 9 Democrats backed it.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a strong supporter of HB2, said those Republicans could face primary opposition.

“There’s a good opportunity for that,” he said. “I think it’s going to be hard for the (Republican) base to understand. There’s going to be some hard feelings.”

But GOP strategist Paul Shumaker said Republicans across the state can point to the economic benefits of repealing HB2. The Associated Press reported this week that the law, which curtailed LGBT protections, could have a statewide economic cost of $3.7 billion over 10 years.

“Republicans who vote for this can make an economic argument,” Shumaker said. “Just look at Donald Trump.” Trump carried most of rural and suburban North Carolina last November.

Like other Democrats who backed the compromise repeal, Cooper could face a backlash.

“He’s a good man but this is bad policy, it’s not leadership,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC. “He’s going to have a lot of work to do to win back those supporters.”

He pointed to Cooper’s support in 2016 from HB2 opponents. Exit polls showed nearly two of every three Cooper supporters opposed the law. Cooper defeated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory by 10,277 votes.

Sgro said by signing the bill, Cooper would have “failed” the people who gave him that margin.

Progressive opposition could hurt him in a primary fight. But others said the governor should be able to weather any fallout from the compromise.

“If it gets rid of the taint on North Carolina, Gov. Cooper will come out fine,” said Mac McCorkle, a former Democratic consultant who teaches public policy at Duke University.

And Democratic Rep. Mickey Michaux, an African-American and civil rights veteran from Durham, reflected that in casting his vote for the compromise.

“I’m not going to throw my governor under the bus,” he told colleagues. “I’m going to support my governor so he will have an opportunity for a second term.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill