It is becoming increasingly obvious that Governor Roy Cooper will not entertain any compromise on HB 2. The latest compromise bill, HB 186, is currently making its way through the legislature. Truth be told, even if it managed to pass both chambers of the General Assembly with bipartisan support, Cooper would probably veto it. The people he listens to have made it clear that they want only a full repeal of HB 2, which is not a compromise.
So, why is Cooper acting in such an obstructionist manner? He is actually making a gamble: that by defying any legislative compromise, HB 2 will still be a potent issue going into the 2018 elections. If Cooper’s strategy is successful, then Republicans will receive the brunt of the blame for the law’s continued existence, and enough of them will be defeated for him to sustain a veto.
The truth is that Cooper is in a very weak position currently. His influence is limited to calling Democratic legislators on the phone and convincing them to scuttle any compromise – admittedly something at which he has proven quite effective. Overturning the Republican supermajorities will at least give him a seat at the negotiating table – bringing him up to Bev Perdue levels of power. For a weak governor, such a gamble might be a prudent choice of action.
The downside to this gamble is that the HB 2 issue only has traction in urban and suburban districts. The Republican legislators who presently represent those districts won their seats in spite of opposition to HB 2. Suburban voters overlooked legislators’ support for HB 2 and decided that, whatever their faults, they were better off than the alternative. And this was in the midst of an anti-Trump backlash that saw suburban Republicans abandon the leader of their party in droves. When the dust cleared, General Assembly Republicans survived with their supermajorities intact.
Cooper’s gamble rests on the assumption that things will be even worse for suburban Republicans in 2018. Midterms tend to be bad for the party currently in power, so that might not be a bad assumption to make. On the other hand, the party of the incumbent governor tends to lose seats in a midterm also. It could be a wash – and keep in mind that there will be no gubernatorial or Senate contest to draw voters to the polls next year. A backlash to Trump (if there is any) might be limited in North Carolina.
It also ignores the fact that, the more Cooper keeps killing compromises, the more voters begin to ask, “What’s with this guy?” and associate him with the lack of action on HB 2. By the time November 2018 rolls around, both parties could be seen as at fault.
Thus, Cooper’s gamble is a risky one. But he might have no other option. What do Democrats have to run on instead? HB 2 is the only card they have to play – and the longer they play it, the less effective it becomes.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns.