Politics & Government

NBA decision means HB2 likely to dominate governor’s race

The NBA All-star game will not be held in Charlotte. NC Equality held a press conference outside Time Warner Cable Arena to discuss its impacts.
The NBA All-star game will not be held in Charlotte. NC Equality held a press conference outside Time Warner Cable Arena to discuss its impacts. tcfleming@charlotteobserver.com

The NBA’s decision to move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte because of House Bill 2 likely will heighten the focus on the legislation in the fall governor’s race.

And the fallout over HB2 could impact Mayor Jennifer Roberts and the City Council, who approved an expanded nondiscrimination ordinance this year that touched off the furor. Roberts and council members aren’t up for reelection until 2017, but their decision still could be the defining issue 16 months from now.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed HB2 into law in March, did not back down Friday from his decision. On an appearance on Charlotte Talks on Friday morning, McCrory said the NBA’s decision was an “insult.”

“I’m disappointed,” McCrory said. “I strongly disagree with their decision. To put it bluntly it’s total (politically correct) BS. It’s an insult to our city and an insult to our state.”

Attorney General Roy Cooper, McCrory’s Democratic opponent, issued a statement Friday that said the governor should “stop pointing fingers and take responsibility.”

HB2 was passed by the General Assembly in response to Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance.

The law prohibits N.C. cities and towns from creating legal protections for the LGBT community, and it requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth certificate in government buildings, including schools.

During their first debate at the Westin hotel in Charlotte last month, McCrory focused on the state’s improved economy that’s part of what the governor calls the “Carolina Comeback.” Cooper brought up HB2, saying the governor’s “extreme social, partisan agenda” was hurting the state.

While Cooper appears to be more comfortable attacking McCrory over HB2, both campaigns have an upside with the issue, said Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College.

“I think both political campaigns and sides are using it to their advantage and framing it in such a way that this appeals to the base of both parties,” Bitzer said. “It’s an easy energizer and mobilizer. Whether both sides are going to get the advantage that they ultimately want – that’s still an unknown at this point.”

The N.C. Republican Party has charged that Cooper has worked to thwart a legislative compromise to lessen the impact of HB2. Dallas Woodhouse, the N.C. GOP executive director, said Cooper is “actively working against the state.”

Selective outrage?

During his appearance on Charlotte Talks, McCrory repeatedly said the NBA was being selective in its outrage over HB2. He said the state’s position isn’t so different than many other states, and that the “political left” is inflaming the issue. He also said the economic loss from not having the All-Star Game is immaterial in the state’s $500 billion economy.

He also noted that Houston voters rejected a nondiscrimination ordinance similar to Charlotte’s, and the NCAA still held the Final Four there this year.

Charlotte Talks host Mike Collins asked McCrory about comments by the state’s leading men’s college basketball coaches, who have been critical of HB2. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said HB2 was “an embarrassing bill.”

N.C. State’s Mark Gottfried and Elon’s Matt Matheny also have criticized the law.

“I disagree with those three coaches,” McCrory said. “I doubt they have read HB2. I haven’t (read) their playbooks, either. I do think there is a politically correct elite that is having selective outrage.”

The NBA is considering moving the All-Star Game to New Orleans. McCrory said he spoke with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver by telephone Thursday night and said that idea doesn’t make sense. McCrory said he told Silver that Louisiana is one of 22 states suing the federal government over the Obama administration’s decision to allow transgender students to use bathroom and locker room facilities in public schools that corresponds with their gender identity.

Greensboro and Charlotte are scheduled to host NCAA tournament basketball games in 2017 and 2018.

On Friday, the NCAA said cities wanting to bid on championships must answer a questionnaire about nondiscrimination policies at the local and state level.

The NCAA said the “requirement follows the recent actions of legislatures in several states, which have passed laws allowing businesses or government to refuse to provide services to some people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Local election impact?

Charlotte Hornets minority owner Felix Sabates sent an email Thursday night to Hornets President Fred Whitfield.

“Our Mayor opened a can of worms, who knows why?” wrote Sabates, a donor to Republican candidates. “Our city council is the one to blame for our losing the NBA All Star game, none of this would have happened if not for a very few minority forcing our supposed city leaders into creating a problem that never really existed, there will always be another election, they better pray a very few can get them re-elected.”

The most recent city of Charlotte election was in November, and the mayor and council members won’t face voters again until November 2017.

During the campaign, Roberts pledged she would try to pass an expanded nondiscrimination ordinance for the LGBT community.

When speaking about the issue as mayor, she has been at her most passionate. She has been steadfast in her support of the Charlotte ordinance and opposing HB2.

In May, the City Council voted 7-4 against a symbolic measure that would have removed the city’s nullified nondiscrimination ordinance. The legislature had said informally it could be a good first step towards a compromise.

Roberts did not support that.

Her hard-line opposition to HB2 likely will engender support among the city’s liberals and likely will get her financial support from national gay-rights organizations.

But there could be room for another Democrat to challenge her in the primary, which will be in early fall of 2017. Some Democrats could argue they support legal protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people, but that Roberts went too far in supporting a transgender individual’s right to use the bathroom of their identified gender.

Democrat David Howard, who lost to Roberts in the mayoral primary last year, held that position. Howard now works for the Federal Highway Administration in Washington D.C., though that job will end in January.

Former mayor Dan Clodfelter and council member Michael Barnes also could run.

HB2 also might give new hope to Republicans, who have lost four consecutive mayoral elections. The issue could be a rallying cry for social conservatives.

“The issue will be about leadership,” said Republican council member Kenny Smith, who voted against the city’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance.

When asked if he is considering running for mayor, Smith said, “I love serving the people of District 6. I love serving the people of Charlotte.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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.

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