A former North Carolina governor and a former lieutenant governor are poised to lead a bipartisan search for a possible compromise on House Bill 2, the law that catapulted the state into a national debate over transgender rights.
The idea grew out of widespread discussions on how to break the impasse over the law, which according to one study has cost Mecklenburg County alone more than $285 million in lost economic activity.
The group would be led by Republican financier Art Pope, a former state budget director, and former Democratic Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker. Former Republican Gov. Jim Martin would be the honorary chairman.
“My sense is that there’s a public appetite for people to get together and talk about it rather than people just yelling across the chasm at each other,” said John Hood, president of Pope’s family foundation.
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Hood and Pope are organizing the working group. They say it grew out of discussions over how to find a way out of a situation that has resulted in economic losses, celebrity boycotts and dueling lawsuits between the state and the U.S. Justice Department.
The Raleigh Republicans are just two of the people who’ve been trying to find a solution to the impasse.
“Lots of different people had the same thought, which is some kind of de-escalation, followed by discussion,” Hood said. “There were different versions of what that de-escalation looked like.”
One version, which followed meetings with some Charlotte City Council members and legislative leaders, involved a council vote to rescind the February ordinance that prompted the law.
That ordinance extended anti-discrimination protections to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It gave transgender people the right to use the bathroom or locker room of their gender identity.
Republican lawmakers responded with HB2, which nullified the Charlotte ordinance and limited discrimination claims, among other measures.
This week, House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters the city had to rescind the ordinance before the legislature made any changes in the state law. “For any conversations to happen, Charlotte needs to take a look at what it did, and it needs to be the first to make any movement,” he said.
Business leaders lobbied the city to make a concession. “We fear that if the City Council doesn’t take a first step, the crushing economic suffering … will continue for years,” Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan wrote in a column for the Observer.
But on Monday, the City Council voted 7-4 against taking a vote to rescind the ordinance.
Pope said he was more confident of a compromise last week than he is now. He said the idea of a working group has “a lot of buy-in” from both sides.
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Hood, former president of the conservative John Locke Foundation, said one reason is the need for trust. He alluded to comments by Julie Eiselt, a Democratic council member, who said the city needs more trust with Republican lawmakers before moving forward.
“The reasoning given in Charlotte … is ‘We don’t trust them,’ and what you hear from the legislature and to some extent the McCrory administration is, ‘We don’t trust them.’ So one reason to have a conversation … is to air out differences. Another reason is just to build trust.”
Hood said organizers are looking at a core group of 16 members representing local governments and people on various sides of the divide. The tentative name: the FAIR working group, for Facility Access Inclusion and Respect.
“The faster we get people talking the better,” he said.
Joe Neff of The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.