Tag Archives: north carolina politics

He Made Me Hit Him!

When I was a kid I had a terrible habit of slugging my younger brother. Granted it usually followed him tormenting me and me warning him that if he didn’t stop I was going to hit him. Despite my warnings he would continue to needle and annoy me until I passed the boiling point and slugged him; then he’d crumble to the ground in agony and scream for my mother. Sometimes I knew I’d truly hurt him, but many times he definitely hit the emote button to maximize the punishment he knew I was going to get.

When my Mom arrived on the scene a couple of things happened. First she’d ask, “What happened.” Then, as soon as I started explaining with, “I hit him, but he started it…” she’d cut me off and say something to the effect of, “I don’t care what he said or did, there’s no excuse for hitting him. You’re older and bigger than he is, so there’s just no excuse.” Later, after doling out my punishment, she’d ask me why I continued to let him sucker me in like that and why I couldn’t learn to just ignore him? I didn’t have an easy answer, but deep down I knew she was right.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, I was reading about the NC’s republican leadership saying they’d entertain the idea of repealing HB2 if Charlotte would repeal it’s bathroom ordinance, and it reminded me of me and my brother. They’re claiming that Charlotte passing its bathroom ordinance forced them to pass a law that not only negated the ordinance, but also removed the ability for municipalities to enact employment bias protections more stringent than the state’s, or for employees to sue employers in state court for wrongful termination. In other words the legislature, and governor, did the equivalent of beating the snot out of Charlotte because the city council stuck its tongue out at them.

Here’s what’s being floated by the republicans:

North Carolina’s two top legislative leaders put their weight behind a proposed repeal of House Bill 2 Sunday night, but only if the Charlotte City Council repeals its own transgender nondiscrimination ordinance first…

The joint statement issued on behalf of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is both the clearest sign yet that the General Assembly could backtrack on the controversial law and an effort to pressure the Charlotte City Council in accepting at least some of the responsibility for a months-long fracas over the measure…

“If the Charlotte City Council had not passed its ordinance in the first place, the North Carolina General Assembly would not have called itself back into session to pass HB 2 in response,” the legislative leaders’ statement reads. “Consequently, although our respective caucuses have not met or taken an official position, we believe that, if the Charlotte City Council rescinds its ordinance, there would be support in our caucuses to return state law to where it was pre-HB 2.”

Simply put I think the Charlotte city council would be nuts to cave on this. First, because they don’t gain anything by conceding and second, because the legislature has yet to explain why they can’t repeal the parts of the bill that had nothing to do with the bathroom ordinance.

What the republicans don’t want anyone to pay attention to is Part IV of HB2. Here’s what it says:

PART IV. SEVERABILITY 31 SECTION 4. If any provision of this act or its application is held invalid, the invalidity does not affect other provisions or applications of this act that can be given effect without the invalid provisions or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable. If any provision of this act is temporarily or permanently restrained or enjoined by judicial order, this act shall be enforced as though such restrained or enjoined provisions had not been adopted, provided that whenever such temporary or permanent restraining order or injunction is stayed, dissolved, or otherwise ceases to have effect, such provisions shall have full force and effect.

So, if I’m Charlotte my reply is that at a minimum the legislature needs to repeal parts II and III of HB2 before we’ll discuss anything. Even then I think Charlotte’s city council would be dumb to even entertain the idea of repealing the ordinance – after all it’s the legislature and governor who are over a barrel right now – but at least the conversation would be about the specific bathroom bill and not the constraints on local municipalities to provide added employment protections for the LGBT community if they so desired.

How do the legislators and governor not get that to everyone else in the world who isn’t from their camp they look like how I did to my Mom way back when. Even if Charlotte passed the ordinance with the specific intention of provoking them, how could they be so stupid as to get suckered into overreacting and getting themselves sent into economic timeout?

My excuse is that I was 12, but what’s theirs?

Proactivism

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last couple of months you’ve heard about a small issue we’ve had here in North Carolina. It’s a piece of state legislation called HB2, aka “The Bathroom Bill”, and it has actually grown into a national issue thanks to the combination of national media attention, acts of protest by well known companies and entertainers and the recognition by many politicians that it is a perfect “wedge issue” for this monumental election year. From amidst the increasingly nasty din that surrounds the issue has emerged a fleetingly rare voice of sanity, and it came to my attention from, of all places, an issue of a trade newsletter I receive called Associations Now, that has a piece about a group that is encouraging musicians to use their shows to protest HB2 instead of cancelling their shows outright in protest:

As an alternative, a pair of activists launched North Carolina Needs You, which encourages musicians to hold shows in the state and use them as platforms to speak out against the measure, known as HB2.

The initiative was born when Grayson Haver Currin, a prominent North Carolina music journalist and onetime codirector of the state’s Hopscotch Music Festival, came up with the strategy after Springsteen canceled. Currin and his wife, Tina, created the campaign out of concern that, in the long run, artist boycotts would do more harm than good.

Almost immediately, the band Duran Duran, which had struggled with whether to cancel its show, collaborated on Currin’s initiative and decided to perform, using the show to draw attention to the cause by bringing critics of the law onstage and by donating money to political nonprofits working to fight the law.

The website also found quick support from those nonprofits, including Equality NC, Progress NC Action, and the state chapters of the NAACP and the ACLU…

The artists choosing to stay have received positive notices from music-industry peers who are directly affected by the law.

The band Against Me!—whose lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, publicly came out as transgender in 2012—announced that it would keep its May 15 show in Durham on the schedule specifically to protest the law. The band is encouraging attendees to use gender-neutral bathrooms at the concert venue.

While it’s easy to understand where acts like Bruce Springsteen are coming from when they cancel shows, this approach seems much more productive. Hopefully more voices like the Currins’ will emerge here in North Carolina and we can get back to some level of sanity.

Perception IS Reality

In the ongoing North Carolina saga that is the aftermath of the state legislature’s passage of HB2, it has become clear people are still people. Essentially, people who support the bill focus on the parts they agree with – namely the “bathroom bill” portion – and seem perfectly willing to ignore or minimize the parts that they may or may not agree with if they bothered to look past the headlines related to the bathroom-related stuff. On the other hand opponents of the bill focus on the discriminatory aspects of the bill and the egregious rollback of employees’ rights to sue for wrongful termination -rightly so in my opinion – yet they also minimize the feelings of people confronted with the confusing spectrum of human sexuality and gender and belittle as “ignorant” those who don’t know the difference. In other words, our state legislature has drawn a big red line on either side of which the citizens of the state are lining up.

One real rub here is that there are many people who hate the bill, but don’t want to admit that sharing a restroom with a transgender person gives them pause. Given enough time to think about it they probably realize that they already have and just didn’t know it, but the fear of the unknown and different is something that must be addressed and it does no good to belittle those who have those fears.

Another issue is that a certain percentage of the backlash against the bill is coming from people and institutions from outside the state, so people who support it are able to fall back on the old “we’re not going to let those California liberals (or Yankee, or whatever other pejorative) tell us how to live our lives, so they can take their business elsewhere” argument or, even better, the “those people are hypocrites because they still do business in <fill in the blank place with some hot-button issue>” tack. When these people hear that yet another performer is cancelling a North Carolina gig, or another conference is cancelling and moving to another state, or another company is halting expansion plans for the state, they shrug it off as inconsequential or hypocritical. Yet, you can be dead certain that if Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance that was supposedly the justification for HB2 was in place and a Christian rock band cancelled a show there, then they would instantly invoke the right of the band not to violate its principles and decry the lost economic impact due to the ordinance. Hypocrisy, meet thyself.

So here’s the deal – both sides have their perceptions of the issue and so each has its own version of reality. What the supporters of the bill will have to reconcile themselves with is the reality that their perception, and thus their version of reality, is out of step with much of the rest of the country. You know what? That’s their right, but when some of them wake up one day and are unemployed because the state has lost so much business because it is out of step with the rest of the country then they will have a whole new reality to face and that might change their perception of what IS important to worry about and what’s maybe a red herring of an issue that’s been used to screw them over.

The Impact of Malgovernance

*Disclaimer – this piece is my opinion alone and does not reflect the beliefs of any other person or organization with which I’m affiliated.*

Last week I wrote about the way in which the North Carolina legislature enacted the controversial HB2. Since then the controversy and noise swirling around the new law has escalated greatly, with the supporters of the law squatting behind a defensive shield that focuses on the “shiny object” portion of the law; the part that focuses on the rollback of Charlotte’s ordinance regarding transgender bathroom usage. And if you ever doubted it was about politics, in the process of defending law they also attack attorney general Roy Cooper, who is running against incumbent Republican governor Pat McCrory. From Sen. Phil Berger’s Facebook page:

CLICK THE LINK AND SIGN YOUR NAME: I have never seen a campaign as vicious and dishonest as the radical left’s assault on Pat McCrory over the bathroom safety bill. Unlike Roy Cooper, Gov. McCrory courageously did his job and protected the people of North Carolina by signing this common sense law that keeps grown men out of the same bathroom and locker room as little girls. Will you please share StandwithMcCrory.com with your friends and ask them to sign their names in support of Governor McCrory to fight back against the left’s shameful smear campaign?

Now, this stuff is pretty predictable. Of course the backers of the new law are going to run a PR campaign that focuses on the titillating aspects of the bill, simplifies and sensationalizes it with the zero reality-based evidence that it will help protect anyone from anything except their own boogeyman fears, and gets their political base all hot and bothered. Fine, we knew that would happen, but we also knew that there would be an uproar from the rest of the “liberal” world and it was quick in coming, in ways large and small. Here’s just a sampling:

So how are the law’s backers reacting? One editorial in the Charlotte paper captured it perfectly: Republicans’ Schoolyard Reaction to PayPal. This kind of stuff works beautifully with the hard-right’s true believers, and it is definitely part of their strategy – as misguided as some of us might think it is – to give McCrory an issue to go after Cooper with and to distract from the other parts of the law that actually impact far more North Carolinians.

What, you ask, could impact us more than who gets to use the restroom? Well, the one part of the law that has gotten the least attention and yet could directly impact far more of us than anything, is the elimination of a person to sue for wrongful termination in state court if they are fired. That’s a big deal, as explained in this article:

By prohibiting the state Equal Employment Practices Act as the basis for civil action, Noble said, “this law has essentially eliminated state law sanctions for employers, who can now fire its employees … with no state law consequences.”

N.C. House and Senate Republican legislative leaders emphasized during debate over the bill that North Carolinians have a “far more robust” federal court option for filing discrimination lawsuits.

Noble disagrees with the “robust” suggestion, saying that filing a complaint in federal court is twice as costly as state court, more time-consuming in terms of logistical requirements, and likely to have a longer period before a decision…

Legislators say there is a state remedy in that complaints could be investigated and mediated by the N.C. Human Relations Commission.

However, Noble said that commission has focused “on resolving housing discrimination complaints for private persons and improving community relations.”

“The commission simply does not address employment discrimination complaints against private employers … because its authority is expressly limited to receiving, investigating and trying to mutually resolve such complaints,” she said.

The commission also does not receive reoccurring financing from the legislature.

Federal remedies for compensatory and punitive damages are capped according to employer size, ranging from a combined $50,000 to $200,000. In state court, Noble said, there is no cap on compensatory damages, and punitive damages can be worth up to three times the compensatory damage award.

Federal claims must be filed first with the EEOC, whose due diligence obligations often serve to weed out the majority of lawsuits before they reach federal court.

Noble and Rainey said the EEOC tends to take more than six months to recommend whether to pursue a federal court filing, in part because its three North Carolina offices typically are understaffed. By comparison, Kennedy said it is not uncommon for a discrimination case filed in state court to be completed within eight to 12 months.

Seriously, you have to admire the effectiveness of their campaign to this point because no one is talking about it and it directly affects every working person in the state. But, by all means, you go right ahead and focus on who’s using that bathroom and argue about whether or not the new law does any good in protecting someone while they’re taking a squat, while those in the economic development trenches try to figure out how break through all this noise when recruiting businesses and while our various convention and visitor bureaus try to figure out how to keep event organizers from running to more welcoming venues. Think that’s not an issue? Well, here’s a little tidbit I came across on an online network for association professionals:

Topic: Addressing concerns about having our meeting in North Carolina this year

Dear All:

We are having our annual meeting in 6 months in a state that recently passed a law that revokes certain local anti-discrimination ordinances. ($*&*#%!!!!) When we were contacted by the media, we re-iterated our stance on equality (see below). Today we received an inquiry from someone for whom we have no record in our any of our systems asking how we will protect the civil rights of attendees. We have no idea if they are truly a new potential attendee or exhibitor, from the media (though they should identify themselves as media), or from an advocacy group. This got me thinking that we could face protesters or other issues if the courts don’t resolve the situation before this fall.

Has anyone else faced a similar situation?  What should we do and what should we ask the CVB to do, proactively, to reassure our organization, our attendees and exhibitors, etc? 

Believe me when I tell you that there are so many places someone can take a conference or show that there’s no reason they even consider opening themselves up to this kind of hassle, no matter who is behind it. If you’re a supporter of the law, at least the part that’s getting all the noise, and are beating the drum for state leadership to stand strong in the face of “liberal media/activists” then please understand that while you’re more than welcome to your opinion you are also obligated to accept the consequences of that support. You can try to say that it’s the “liberals'” fault for losing that business, that they’re creating a false perception, but here’s the deal: peoples’ perception IS their reality and the perception that you have created is one of being unwelcoming, bigoted and small minded. In today’s business environment that’s a death notice.

Malgovernance

*Disclaimer – this piece is my opinion alone and does not reflect the beliefs of any other person or organization with which I’m affiliated.*

North Carolina’s legislature has made the national news again, and once again it seems to have been motivated by the misguided belief that theocratic governing is a good idea. You can read all about what the legislature did simply by Googling “North Carolina LGBT law“, so instead of talking about what they did I’d like to talk about how they did it.

The Atlantic Monthly has a piece about why North Carolina’s legislature was able to pass the bill while other states’ legislatures were not and in that piece we find a good description of how they pulled it off:

 

…the decision was only made public on Monday, two days before the session. (As a result, some members of the assembly were unable to travel to Raleigh in time.) The legislative language of the bill wasn’t released until minutes before the session actually began Wednesday morning. There was minimal time for public comment built into the session. And by 9 p.m., less than 12 hours after the session began, McCrory signed the bill into law…

In North Carolina, by contrast, there was little warning for opposition forces to rally against the preemption law, no time for them to try to meet with the governor, and little time for the business community to speak out. Dow Chemical, the medical company Biogen, and Raleigh-based software company Red Hat all publicly announced they opposed the law. But major corporations like Charlotte-based Bank of America—which has in the past outspokenly criticizedanti-gay-marriage laws and touted its record on LGBT rights—did not make a public statement. (I asked B of A for comment about the law but haven’t heard back yet.) There’s a strong grassroots-activist base in North Carolina too, centered around the “Moral Mondays” movement, but there was little time for that bloc to organize either…

The law’s framers may also have made a strategically wise decision in bundling several issues together. Laws barring discrimination against gay people are politically contentious. But there’s still much more public stigma against transgender people. For example, campaigners against an LGBT non-discrimination referendum in Houston last year focused heavily on the transgender-bathroom question to the exclusion of broader non-discrimination, and won a resounding victory…

Of course, the general assembly could have passed a narrowly scoped bill that only overturned the transgender accommodation, but legislators instead chose a broader approach. (The minimum-wage provision, meanwhile, was resurrected from a failed preemption effort in September.)

This perfectly describes the m.o. for the Republican-led legislature over the past half-dozen years: for any piece of legislation that might have even a hint of opposition, or might be considered controversial in any way, work on the language behind closed doors, bum-rush it through committee with limited time for serious study by members, get it to the floor for rushed/limited debate and then send it to the governor. Even if he disagrees with it he ends up not acting because he knows his veto is essentially worthless and so it becomes law without his signature.

Bundling multiple items into a contentious bill is nothing new, but hitching the minimum wage piece to a bill that’s got everyone all heated up due to potty rights is a good example of how the Republicans in this legislature have perfected the art.

Before you think I’m picking on the Republicans let me state right here that they are continuing in the tradition of the Democrats who ran the legislature immediately before them. Some of those clowns went to jail, so it’s safe to say that we citizens of North Carolina have been victims of bipartisan malgovernance (that’s not a word, but it feels like a good description).

So what’s wrong with this form of legislating? It short-circuits the inherent strength of an elected body by not allowing a full vetting of the bill in committee and by not allowing time for in-depth study of the bills particulars. By not providing a venue for an extended and honest debate, or for substantive feedback from the public, the majority is pushing through flawed and poorly constructed legislation. If the true goal is good governance then the House and Senate leadership would push for more transparency and debate, not less, and by using these legislative tricks what they are telling us is that the aim is not good governance but to score points with their political base.

Does that shock you? Probably not. Should it piss you off? Most definitely.

By the way, I totally understand if you support the results of the bill – if it fits your belief system then so be it. But please remember how this went down because at some point in the future you’re NOT going to like the resulting law and you’re going to feel truly screwed over when you learn that the powers-that-be snuck one by you. That, my friend, is called karma and it’s a bitch.

Vernon Robinson Digging for Ben Carson Gold

Folks who have been paying attention to politics in North Carolina, and Winston-Salem in particular, for any amount of time will instantly recognize the name Vernon Robinson. He’s a conservative gadfly who labeled himself the “black Jesse Helms” and ran some of the most vitriolic campaigns these parts have ever seen. While he’s never won a major office – he did at one point when a seat on Winston-Salem’s city council, but that’s A-League ball in the world of politics – he has been a heckuva fundraiser and he’s put those skills to work as he toils to draft Ben Carson to run for POTUS. Mother Jones has the story:

Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon, author, tea party hero, and Stuck On You star, is contemplating a presidential bid in 2016. He’s being cheered on by conservative activists—and by the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, a super PAC founded in 2013 to urge Carson to run. The PAC sends out emails touting Carson, gathers signatures for petitions aimed at coaxing him into the race, and it raises money from conservatives enthralled with the prospect of a Carson presidency. A lot of money. According to Federal Election Commission filings, the Draft Carson PAC has raised an impressive $12.2 million since its founding—slightly more than Ready for Hillary, the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. Draft Carson has, in fact, done very little besides fundraise…

The guy responsible for collecting and managing Draft Carson’s huge haul is Vernon Robinson, the PAC’s political director and a notorious, perennial candidate with a history of rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric. An African-American, ex-Air Force officer from North Carolina, Robinson has repeatedly run unsuccessful campaigns for Congress. He calls himself “the black Jesse Helms”—a comparison the director of the late senator’s foundation declared “sad.” His congressional campaign ads—one of which characterized undocumented immigrants as flag-burners and sex offenders—are so out-there that political science professors use them to illustrate mudslinging at its dirtiest. In 2006, a Republican running against Robinson in a House primary said that he “scares me.” But win or (almost always) lose, the common thread in his political career has been remarkable fundraising success, with a big chunk of the proceeds Robinson has raised flowing to a small camp of conservative fundraisers, and sometimes, himself…

Robinson, meanwhile, has quietly turned his quixotic Draft Ben Carson effort into a lucrative enterprise for himself. FEC filings show that the PAC paid out over $250,000 to a consulting firm called Tzu Mahan. Buzzfeed reported in November that Tzu Mahan—its name a mashup of ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and 19th century Navy admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan—is a one-man company, run by Robinson. Robinson’s reaction, when asked about his high salary, was candid: “People get paid to do politics,” he said.

Ten years ago on this blog I made a standing offer to any local elected leader to help them learn how to use this revolutionary new medium called blogging to communicate directly with their constituents. The only person who took me up on it was indeed Vernon Robinson. We met for coffee at the Starbucks on Hanes Mall Boulevard, and had an interesting meeting. I ended up helping him set up a blog on my blogging platform, but he really didn’t do anything with it. Ten years later what I remember most about the meeting were two things: First, that he tried to pay for his coffee with a gold coin that was alternative currency to the US dollar and the manager had to inform him he wouldn’t allow it to happen in the future, and second that he seemed far less vitriolic and more politically pragmatic in a one-on-one conversation than he was when talking to the press or campaigning.

So here’s my advice if you’re considering sending some dollars to the Draft Ben Carson campaign: caveat emptor. Heck, that’s my advice for sending money to any political campaign.