State lawmakers made it clear to North Carolina cities Wednesday: They sit as a Supreme City Council. Senators and representatives from Kings Mountain, Eden, Wilson, Mount Airy, Waxhaw, Archdale and Southport are absolute rulers over Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Durham and other large cities. If Charlotte gets out of line, lawmakers will yank it back. If Charlotte’s elected leaders “lose their minds,” as Sen. Buck Newton (R-Wilson) said, the state will knock them on the head.
Republican legislators convened Wednesday’s extraordinary special session to overturn a Charlotte ordinance protecting transgender people from discrimination. At 10 a.m., they presented a bill that did far more. It set a statewide nondiscrimination standard and barred any local government from exceeding it. It pointedly did not cover gay, lesbian and transgender people. This appears to supersede a Greensboro ordinance enacted last year that protects gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing. The legislature also prohibited cities from setting a minimum wage for private employers higher than the state level of $7.25 an hour.
Democrats, vastly outnumbered in the House and Senate, tried to separate the Charlotte and statewide portions of the bill, but Republicans shot down the effort. This proved that the special session wasn’t meant only to deal with public restroom issues in Charlotte. It was another rebuke to all the state’s cities, following previous measures to dictate city council structures, overturn rental housing ordinances, grab airports and water systems, restrict annexation authority and more.
This was one more power play by conservative legislators, many from small towns, to rein in progressive cities. It was a signal to the nation that North Carolina will stand with the most conservative states — Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana — in opposing progressive social policies.
Except that, in Louisiana, legislators from the backwoods and bayous haven’t overturned gay, lesbian and transgender protections in New Orleans or even Shreveport. Similar protections are found in the ordinances of Atlanta, Ga.; Miami, Tampa and Orlando, Fla.; Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth, Texas; Boise, Idaho; Bloomington and Indianapolis, Ind.; Lawrence, Kan.; Louisville and Lexington, Ky.; St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.; Omaha, Neb.; and on and on.
In North Carolina, however, it’s painfully obvious that official state policy is hostile to the gay and transgender communities. From Amendment One to a law allowing state officials to refuse to facilitate legal same-sex marriages to, now, repealing local protections against discrimination, the state of North Carolina has made it abundantly clear that this population is unwelcome — whatever attitudes cities hold to the contrary.
It’s disappointing that Gov. Pat McCrory immediately signed the bill. A sweeping measure with statewide impact was introduced, voted on and signed into law all in one day, with virtually no time allowed for public and business input — although major corporations are sounding alarms now.
It was a sad day for North Carolina and its cities.