North Carolina’s brand has taken a sizable hit since the passage of HB2, moving from New South poster child to literal punchline in the national consciousness. It has cost the state thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in lost revenue. Many have been left wondering how a purple state suddenly turned so red.
The GOP won control of the North Carolina General Assembly during the 2010 midterm elections in what was a difficult year for Democratic candidates across the country. That left Republicans in charge of redrawing districts, which is done every ten years, leading to gerrymandering, giving them an advantage in subsequent elections. The use of racial data from the census to draw districts in their favor was ruled unconstitutional by a panel of federal judges.
While those efforts will have a significant impact on the results of non-statewide elections, it won’t matter a bit when it comes to the gubernatorial and presidential races.
If Gov. Pat McCrory and Donald Trump, whom McCrory still supports in spite of the “Access Hollywood” tape and subsequent sexual assault allegations – so much for his rhetoric around protecting women – manage to carry the day in the state, North Carolina will have no New South ground left on which to stand. If we give the nod to Gov. McCrory, even after signing HB2 into law, and Donald Trump, even after his campaign of bigotry and hatred, we will not only deserve the jokes and the laughter, we will have proven that we deserved the boycotts and should expect them to continue.
In electing McCrory and Trump we will say that the politics of prejudice, discrimination and fear against minority groups is still a winning formula.
Conversely, kicking McCrory out of the Executive Mansion and helping to keep Trump from ever setting foot in the White House, will show that all of the messaging around progress and forward thinking politics in the region was more than just talking the talk.
North Carolina is a swing state, having gone for Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, in both cases narrowly. While Romney was opposed to same-sex marriage, as is Trump, he was in favor of domestic partnership benefits and at times supported protections for LGBTQ workers. He was also a reasonable candidate who wouldn’t humiliate us on the world stage. He didn’t resort to xenophobia or race baiting. He has not been accused by numerous women of touching them and kissing them without their consent.
In fact, Romney has been one of the few Republicans to maintain his lack of support for the candidate, while others have caved even after initially claiming they were part of the “Never Trump” contingent within the GOP.
Trump has signaled support not only for overturning the same-sex marriage ruling, but also for discrimination against the LGBTQ community with the proposed First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), has surrounded himself with antigay advisers, costing him the support of the Log Cabin Republicans, supports HB2 and says he would like to appoint far-right judges like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
To say nothing of his proposed ban on Muslims, calling Mexican immigrants rapists, mocking a disabled reporter and recently throwing out a black supporter at a rally in Kinston, N.C., accusing him of being a paid “thug,” a word many believe to be racially coded.
When asked in the second gubernatorial debate whether Trump was a role model for children in any way, McCrory said he was in his firm stance on important issues, citing his desire to keep out Syrian refugees. McCrory claimed the FBI cannot properly vet them, a claim PolitiFact debunked when Ted Cruz trotted it out on the campaign trail.
His recent campaign ad, titled “Lead,” also has an obvious racist dog whistle, showing a black man knocking over a white CNN reporter during coverage of the Charlotte protests. The fear of the “violent black man,” a la George H.W. Bush’s famous Willie Horton ad.
Presidential nominee Romney has never looked better, in fact, and neither has President Obama for that matter.
It must also be noted that McCrory ran as a moderate, but those days are clearly behind him. The incentive to drift right of center is stronger as the governor or a purple state, with a red NCGA, than it is as the mayor of a blue city.
While there is an extensive list of issues voters consider while determining how they will vote, there is no question more has to be overlooked in terms of civil rights in voting for Trump and this version of McCrory than with Romney and McCrory version 1.0.
If we want to turn the tide against discrimination and fear, on which both Trump and McCrory have hung their political hopes, if we want to begin the process of winning back the respect it took decades to construct and stop the economic bleeding we will have to prove it at the polls.
As Dana Milibank of The Washington Post points out in his piece “One governor’s defeat could be a watershed moment for gay rights,” McCrory was likely to win reelection before signing HB2 into law as is now locked in a tight race with challenger Attorney General Roy Cooper. While a majority of those polled still stand against allowing transgender individuals from using the bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity, most also say HB2 has hurt the state.
“Nearly half a century after the Stonewall riots, a defeat of McCrory because of the bathroom bill would be a watershed (or, if you will, a water closet) moment for gay rights,” Milibank writes. “Stigmatizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans has already lost its potency as a political weapon. But this would be the first case of a prominent official being voted out of office because his anti-gay actions backfired.”
A McCrory loss would show that standing firm on social conservative principles means not only losing out economically but also losing seats.
Trump’s running mate Mike Pence is by all indicators more right leaning on conservative issues than McCrory, who vetoed magistrate religious belief exemptions for marriage certificates and has been willing to extend some protections to the LGBTQ community on workplace protections, albeit moving not an inch on trans accommodations.
Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law as governor of Indiana, but backed away after facing the type of backlash McCrory now knows all too well, amending it to prevent LGBTQ discrimination.
He caught flack from the religious right but lived to fight another day. If McCrory’s decision to dig in his heels proves fatal, it could be the loss heard round the nation.
If the Trump, Pence ticket fails as well, and if North Carolina helps make that so, the message will be that much louder.
If they can keep the state red, it will show us just how much work is left to be done, and how much of the talk of a “New South” is as tainted as the origin of the phrase itself.