Triangulation And Cowardice In North Carolina

(This is a joint post by Bryan and Douglas.)

If this is what a resistance looks like, then we are boned.

In another installment of As The Democrats Negotiate Against Themselves, Gov. Roy Cooper and Democrats in the General Assembly struck a deal that would “repeal” HB2, the infamous “bathroom bill” that has made it into a pariah state for corporate interests ranging from the NCAA and ACC to Google and Wells Fargo. This law was passed in the wake of Charlotte passing an ordinance banning discrimination against trans people as they access public facilities. Born from reaction and playing into the worst impulses present in North Carolina’s electorate, HB2 was a moral abomination of a law, rammed through by a Republican legislature in a special session called by the Republican lieutenant governor and signed by a Republican governor, and the hostility it earned the state across the US was justly earned.

This was the state of play back in December, when the Republican governor who signed HB2, Pat McCrory, grudgingly conceded that he lost a fair election and began turning over power to Roy Cooper, the governor-elect. Cooper, looking for a feather in his cap as he was coming into office, tried to negotiate a compromise between the NC General Assembly (still wholly controlled by the GOP despite a gerrymandered electoral map that has been struck down by federal courts) and the City of Charlotte to repeal HB2 and Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance. Charlotte kept their end of the bargain, the General Assembly did not. This left the people negatively affected by HB2 with none of the protections that years of hard organizing had won in Charlotte and left the state with HB2 still on the books.

This brings us to today, where now-Governor Roy Cooper has signed a ‘repeal’ of HB2. Officially called HB142, it strikes the most egregiously anti-trans parts of the bill, but includes bitter pills. It enjoins any North Carolina municipality from passing another anti-discrimination ordinance for four years. This is notable for two reasons, the main one being that Governor Cooper turned down a similar moratorium in December that would have lasted six months. The second reason is that with the NC General Assembly being firmly in the hands of the Republican Party, it would take one law to make such a moratorium from being four years to being permanent.

There is, however, another reason why HB2 and HB142 are awful, and they have nothing to do with protecting trans people’s right to access public spaces.

HB2 was never just a “bathroom bill.” It was never only an anti-trans law. It included what its drafters called the “Wage and Hour Act”. This Act — the second section of the bill — prevents cities and counties in the state from legislating on “….(t)he wage levels of employees, hours of labor, payment of earned wages, and the well-being of minors”. That’s right: local government units in North Carolina are prevented from legislating on the minimum wage, paid leave, and child labor. In addition to that, local governments are prevented from requiring certain wage and benefits standards for businesses that contract with them.

The Democratic Party is, of course, supposed to be the “party of working people.” Yet a Google search turns up scant mention of the anti-worker provisions in the bill, and none of the articles about HB2 turns up any Democrats in the General Assembly or then-Attorney General Roy Cooper commenting on local governments being stripped of their right to eliminate the economic precarity that many of their citizens and communities face. This should have been a moment where Democrats took a bill that was targeted towards the working class in North Carolina — be they LGBTQ or not — and fomented an opposition that touched every corner of the Tar Heel State. An opposition that, little by little, begins to see that their oppressions are interlinked, and that an injury to one is an injury to all.

HB142 does not fix this injury. It instead enjoins North Carolina municipalities from passing such things as local minimum wages or paid leave laws for four years, same as with anti-discrimination ordinances, and as with the anti-discrimination ordinances, it is highly likely that such a temporary ban on those laws will become permanent.

By signing HB142, Governor Cooper has allowed the Republicans off the hook for the harm they have done North Carolina as a state and the harm done to its trans citizens and its working class citizens (and its trans working class citizens, as trans people are more likely to live in poverty than cisgender people). It is the rare politician that can manage to find an action that is both abominable in principle and awful politics. It seems Roy Cooper is just that rare politician, and by passing anything other than a clean repeal the North Carolina Democrats continue the injury caused by HB2, only now they take a partial ownership stake in it from the Republicans.

Every major LBGTQ group in state, such as the Campaign for Southern Equality and Equality NC, opposes HB142. The NC NAACP opposes HB142. Democracy NC opposes HB142. And the North Carolina AFL-CIO opposes HB142. By signing this bill into law, Roy Cooper has betrayed the groups and constituencies that helped him and other Democrats edge out victories over their Republican foes this past November.

But as infuriating as this all is, we cannot be too surprised by this outcome.

The rapid passage of HB142 is just the latest piece of a mosaic that is revealing a politics of deliberate contempt for the working class inside the Democratic Party. From Baltimore to Buncombe County, Democratic elected officials have turned their back on progressive politics in a way that is equal parts Technicolor and destructive. They have made it clear who the priority is in their political deliberations, and it is the corporate citizen over the citizen who lives, breathes, plays, eats, and raises families in their cities and counties.

Luckily, the leftist alternatives that are being built in these places — the North Carolina Piedmont branch of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Workers’ World Party branch in Durham (among other groups forming across the state) — are taking up that mantle, and if we are to make reactionary politics history, we have to give support to socialists building power at the local level.

You can’t even blame out-of-touch academics and Massachusetts liberals for this one. North Carolina Democrats did this all on their own.