It wasn’t exactly Lincoln freeing the slaves, but nearly two dozen Republican N.C. House members showed uncommon courage Tuesday, standing up for principle though it meant rebuking their party’s leaders and risking their wrath.
Rep. Paul Stam, the No. 2 Republican in the House, was pushing a measure to overturn and prevent local nondiscrimination ordinances across the state. With the backing of Republican Senate leaders, the tacit support of House Speaker Tim Moore and a heavy Republican majority before him, Stam might have anticipated a relatively easy vote.
But the provision had come out of nowhere. It appeared for the first time Monday night, appended to an unrelated bill. It bypassed all vetting and all committees, then popped up on the House calendar Tuesday.
Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican, was the first to slow Stam’s train.
This is a significant change, Blust told Stam. Why weren’t legislators and the public given a chance to consider it more thoroughly?
“The Senate insisted on this procedure for this bill,” Stam said weakly.
House rules say that when the House and Senate have passed different versions of the same bill, the compromise version should not have new material that wasn’t in either version – as was the case with this bill. If it does, it needs to go back through committee.
Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat, moved that the discrimination bill be sent to the Rules Committee. Stam urged the House to defeat that motion.
But Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson County Republican, came to Jackson’s defense, an unusual reach across the aisle.
Then it was Blust’s turn again. “Situations like these really put me on the spot,” the Republican said.
“Why do we even go through the charade of having a committee when it can be bypassed so easily?” Blust said. “… How do you go home and explain you vote for things like this that you didn’t know about or see ahead of time?”
The House voted 66-47 to send the bill to committee, with 23 of Stam’s fellow Republicans standing up to him. It was a rare and heartening dissension in a caucus that usually walks in lockstep.
But this emperor had no clothes, and they knew it. Legislators convened 245 days ago. They could have run a clean bill on the nondiscrimination ordinances and gotten public input. Instead, they snuck it in at the last minute.
It was not a surprising approach, given the bill’s flaws. It would keep cities from banning discrimination against LGBT residents – or against anyone else – in housing and public accommodations, as Greensboro did this year and as Charlotte is expected to do next year.
Its broad provisions would likely spark unintended consequences – something that more public debate could delve into. Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, a lawyer and former state senator, said the legislation could gut Charlotte’s existing ordinance, dating to 1968, that bans discrimination on the basis of race and gender. He said it also could prevent the city from enforcing its housing code that ensures safe housing.
Anything can happen in the waning hours of this legislative session. But for one afternoon, 66 legislators stood up to Goliath, and won.