Taylor Batten

McCrory’s HB2 stance begs the question

Gov. Pat McCrory talked to a business-group lunch at The Palm in SouthPark on Thursday.
Gov. Pat McCrory talked to a business-group lunch at The Palm in SouthPark on Thursday. The Charlotte Observer

With Hurricane HB2 blowing North Carolina’s doors off, Gov. Pat McCrory took questions in Charlotte last week – from himself.

McCrory’s staff planted questions at a lunch event in SouthPark on Thursday with the crowd under the impression that they were coming from the media or the audience. The moderator, a volunteer from the lunch audience, introduced three questions by saying they were from the Charlotte Observer.

He apologized to me afterward, saying it was his understanding all the questions on one of his sheets were from the Observer. In fact, they were from the governor’s own staff, an event organizer said.

Speakers at Hood Hargett Breakfast Club events routinely take questions from the floor. McCrory required that all questions be submitted in advance in writing.

When the moderator asked how to get started, McCrory said, “Anything you like. No filter here.” Sure, who needs a filter when you posed the questions yourself?

When I tried to ask McCrory a question, the filter went up. “We’ve got three Observer questions answered already. I think you guys dominate the news enough.”

Of course, those weren’t Observer questions. They were softballs from his staff about what he wanted to do with his next term; how he wanted to reduce the state’s rape kit backlog; and how the state crime lab performed under McCrory’s opponent, Roy Cooper.

When the event was over, McCrory did not meet with the throng of reporters who were there. He ducked out a side door and down a hall that led to a back exit. I followed him to try to ask him about HB2, but his staff blocked me.

Ricky Diaz, a campaign spokesman, on Friday acknowledged the campaign provided questions for the governor, but said “we were asked to in order to keep the conversation format going.”

Jenn Snyder, executive director of the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club, said that’s not true. She said she had expected the governor to take live questions from the audience but the campaign insisted on this other format and wanted to include questions of their own along with ones from the audience. All the questions were portrayed as coming from the audience and the Observer, and the crowd was never told that many of them actually came from McCrory’s campaign.

Poor Pat. He finds himself in the middle of a firestorm of his own making and doesn’t know how to get out of it. He’s so unsure of himself that he plants his own questions and runs from the media at a crucial time.

McCrory called me an hour after the lunch. In that conversation and at the event, it seemed McCrory is tortured by HB2 and its fallout. He aggressively defends it, but also tiptoes toward a conciliatory stance.

For example, he told me, “I strongly disagree with anyone being fired or not hired based on sexual orientation.” But he said it’s Congress’s job, not North Carolina’s or Charlotte’s, to make that law.

He told me Congress should pass a civil rights law that extends protections to gays. Pressed on whether he was saying gays do deserve legal protection, McCrory took a half-step back: “I wish the federal government would have this discussion.”

McCrory talks almost exclusively about transgender use of bathrooms and locker rooms when he defends HB2. But the law went much further than bathrooms, forbidding local governments from passing non-discrimination ordinances.

I asked McCrory why he didn’t insist on a bill that dealt with only bathrooms.

“Our lawyers at the time didn’t know a way to separate it,” he said.

Sounds like he needs new lawyers. But in reality, this isn’t a legal question. It’s one of leadership. McCrory isn’t showing any, and it’s sinking his reelection campaign, and the state.