When Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed into law one of this year's most controversial and heated bathroom bills last month, we predicted that it could backfire on him. And so far, that's exactly what seems to be happening.
After taking heat from businesses, newspapers, the LGBT community and Democrats, McCrory announced Tuesday that he's signing an executive order aimed at mitigating some provisions in the law — but not the parts that LGBT advocates and businesses have beef with. The whole thing gives the appearance that McCrory has backed down under pressure, but it's unlikely to actually alleviate any pressure on him.
In truth, from the moment the North Carolina legislature decided to convene a special section to override a Charlotte transgender-bathroom ordinance, things haven't gone McCrory's way. He opposed the Charlotte ordinance, which let transgender people use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. Such an ordinance would invade people's privacy, he said. But he didn't necessarily want the legislature to call a special session to deal with it, either.
Lawmakers called one anyway, and roughly 12 hours later, McCrory signed the expansive bill, preventing any municipality from making their own protections for LGBT people, into law.
From the jump, McCrory's camp lost the messaging war. What the law does or doesn't say got so muddled that McCrory's team felt they needed to send out talking points to explain their understanding of it. But fact checkers called him out on some of those"facts."
"Pat McCrory is wrong when he says North Carolina's new LGBT law doesn't take away existing rights," read a March 30 Politifact piece.
Then, just weeks after McCrory signed a deal with PayPal to expand to the state — and days after saying the law wouldn't cost the state any dollars — PayPal very publicly backed out of the deal, specifically citing the law.
Now comes his executive order, which risks making no one in the state happy. Much of the order "reaffirms" that the private sector can make their own bathroom policy, which was already part of the law.
But that didn't stop businesses from deciding not to open factories there or groups from deciding not to hold their conventions there or Bruce Springsteen from deciding not to hold a concert there. It's unlikely that McCrory's statement — and it really is more of a statement than an executive order changing policy — will change that.
There is at least one change to come out of McCrory's executive order. State employees now can't be fired for being gay or transgender. But that, too, is unlikely to quiet LGBT advocates' criticisms about the law. LGBT people in the rest of the state still can, and the law takes away LGBT people's ability to sue for discrimination. (On Tuesday, McCrory called on the state legislature to fix that.)
His attempts to change aspects of the law also risk upsetting the Republicans who supported it. It's an open question whether they'll take him up on his request to reinstate the ability to sue for discrimination.
If this saga has gone terribly for McCrory, it's been great for Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is trying to unseat the one-term governor.
Cooper's game plan to win in a socially conservative state like North Carolina had always been to attack McCrory on his job-creating record. Now, Cooper can claim he has tangible evidence to "prove" that the governor's proposals are costing North Carolina residents jobs. And he can make the case that McCrory's executive order is an admission that the law went too far while still hammering the governor on the law itself. (McCrory's camp responded that the governor is making decisions "based on the best interests of the state and its citizens.")
North Carolina is the first — and so far only — state in the nation to require people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. Fairly or not, that has put McCrory in the hot seat from nearly every angle. And how he's handled being there hasn't helped give him any much-needed political cover.