RALEIGH — It is too early to tell at this writing whether Roy Cooper’s slim election night lead over Pat McCrory will hold after the remaining ballots are counted, all ballots are recounted, and all potential legal matters are resolved. Indeed, it’s too early to tell at this writing how long it will take to confirm a winner in the North Carolina governor’s race.
But I can already tell you who has already lost: liberals hoping that a Gov. Cooper would resolve several key issues in their favor.
Consider Medicaid expansion. For years, the Left demanded that McCrory and the Republican-controlled legislature implement the largest and most expensive part of the Affordable Care Act: expanding Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, many with incomes well above the poverty line.
Advocates of Medicaid expansion argued because the vast majority of the cost would be borne by federal taxpayers, it represented essentially “free money” to North Carolina that would otherwise go to other states. This wasn’t a particularly persuasive argument, in that North Carolinians are also federal taxpayers and the amount of money one state gets from Medicaid is completely unrelated to how many other states expand the program. But the argument was frequently made.
Moreover, during the gubernatorial campaign Roy Cooper criticized McCrory for rejecting expansion and pledged to get it done. His promise may have sounded odd, since Republicans were likely to be in charge of the General Assembly in any event, but in other states pro-expansion governors have used tricks to circumvent the will of their elected legislatures — and the Obama administration has, of course, raised no objections.
Whether a Gov. Cooper could have duplicated this feat is now a moot point. A President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress are likely to write a new health care bill next year. You can bet that its treatment of Medicaid will be strikingly different from current law. For example, if the bill turns all or part of Medicaid into a block grant — capping its cost over time while allowing states to use the money in a variety of ways — that will transform the Medicaid debate in North Carolina.
Now consider House Bill 2. Whatever you think of the merits of its provisions, or its effect on North Carolina elections, you need to recognize that both its legal context and its political context have been changed by the election results.
The most extreme position on transgender access to bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms in government buildings was neither the Charlotte ordinance nor House Bill 2. It was the Obama Justice Department’s bizarre directive to school systems across the country based on its reading of the sex-discrimination protections of existing federal law, particularly Title IX. Obama’s position actually outlawed the reasonable accommodations that many schools had worked out years ago to balance the privacy interests of all their students, faculty, and visitors.
I doubt very seriously that the Trump administration will interpret Title IX the same way. They could withdraw the previous “guidance” letter and issue a new one. That, in turn, would either render moot or dramatically change the legal arguments being made in challenges to House Bill 2 and other state policies on the subject. While there is room for discussion about how North Carolina leaders can move forward from here on the various policy issues involved, the previous assumption that all or part of House Bill 2 was destined for destruction in federal court — which was never warranted in the first place — is now dissipating.
Regardless of the final resolution of the gubernatorial contest, North Carolinians will be working out our own approaches to medical assistance for the poor and to reasonable accommodations of sex and gender differences in government facilities. Washington won’t be dictating the answers to these questions. Neither will either a Gov. McCrory or a Gov. Cooper, although either would certainly be in the thick of the debate. So will state lawmakers. So will local officials. And so will you.