By Jim Morrill, The Charlotte Observer
For Beth Monaghan, HB2 was personal.
She watched her son Jordan, 23, come to terms with his sexual identity before coming out as gay in college. They both saw House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” as a slap against people like him.
“There’s nobody that’s a stronger advocate for their child than a mother,” says Monaghan, 58. “And for my home state to pass legislation that said in effect, my son is ‘less than,’ saddened and infuriated me.”
Now the Charlotte Republican is running against one of the main sponsors of the 2016 legislation, GOP state Sen. Dan Bishop. They’ll meet in the May 8 primary in a district that stretches from southeast Charlotte through Matthews and Mint Hill.
Bishop, 53, did not respond to requests for comment.
GOP consultant Larry Shaheen said Monaghan will “merely be symbolic opposition” to Bishop, a well known lawmaker and former county commissioner.
HB2 was the law that required transgender people to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender on their birth certificate, not of their gender identity, in government buildings. It came in response to a Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance and sparked a national backlash as corporations stopped investments in the state and the NCAA and ACC moved championships.
Bishop and other defenders said the law was designed to protect people, especially girls, from sexual predators. He criticized what he called the “radical transgender agenda” behind the push to allow transgender people – or, as critics said, those who claimed to be – into whichever bathrooms they chose.
Bishop, whose role in HB2 landed him on CNN and MSNBC, had taken a lead role on social issues before.
In 2015 he co-sponsored the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which to supporters would have guaranteed their exercise of religious liberty. Critics said it would have invited discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Business leaders objected too, and the effort died.
An HB2 compromise between Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper essentially repealed the law last year, though it failed to placate social conservatives or LGBTQ advocates.
A year later, HB2 is no longer a hot button. But it has motivated at least a handful of candidates who see it as emblematic of a General Assembly that has taken the state in what they see as the wrong direction.
“It is not the only thing I’m running on but it is one of the things,” said Democrat Marcia Morgan, who’s running for a House seat in New Hanover County. A former Army officer and a lesbian, Morgan said HB2 symbolizes “the regressive policies of the current legislature.”
Two Democrats running in Bishop’s District 39 are also talking about HB2.
“We can’t expect to solve our upward mobility problem or grow our economy to its full potential when we are shackling ourselves with terrible legislation such as HB2,” business owner Chad Stachowicz says on his website.
Ann Harlan, a sociology professor, said while HB2 is one of many issues in her race, it’s a big one.
“Anybody who thinks like that, looking for ways to discriminate against a group of people, does not belong in political office,” she said.
But the district is strongly Republican. It was the only one of Mecklenburg County’s five Senate districts won by Republicans Donald Trump and Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016. That year Bishop won nearly 57 percent of the vote against Democrat Lloyd Scher.
Political scientist Michael Bitzer of Catawba College said it could test the strength of moderate voters in the GOP primary.
Bishop is likely to be much better funded than any of his rivals. He had $67,000 cash on hand at the start of the year to Monaghan’s $6,000. Neither Democrat reported more than $3,000.
Monaghan, who ran an accounting business, said she was troubled not only by the values that HB2 seemed to espouse but by its economic cost and damage to “the brand.”
“Unfortunately, this disconnected piece of legislation cost our city and state millions of dollars as employers remained steadfast in their support of the LGBTQ community,” she wrote in an Observer op-ed last fall.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of The North Carolina Values Coalition, cited Monaghan’s campaign contributions in questioning her GOP credentials.
“Let’s see, she contributed to Hillary Clinton, Roy Cooper, the NC Democrat Party, Julie Eiselt, and a Washington DC-based LGBT activist group; she wants to rehash the Charlotte bathroom ordinance; and she’s running as a Republican?” Fitzgerald wrote in an email.
Monaghan acknowledged the contributions but said she also has contributed to McCrory and other Republicans in the past.
While she’s running on a platform with many issues, “If I was not living in Dan Bishop’s district I would not be running for office.…
“I feel this is my mission in life right now – to beat Dan Bishop.”
Shaheen, the GOP consultant, doesn’t expect that to happen in May or in November.
“It would take a blue tsunami to take out Dan Bishop,” he said.