It could happen again

Published April 11, 2024

By Tom Campbell

Return with us now to those memorable days of 2016. The Carolina Panthers endured a disappointing loss in the Super Bowl. A January ice storm paralyzed parts of the state. Villanova’s Wildcats defeated the Carolina Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament in a buzzer-beater. New Congressional redistricting maps favored 10 Republicans to win, only because “we can’t make it 11.” Moral Monday protests began. Hurricane Matthew pummeled the southeast and wildfires ravaged the western part of our state. Governor Pat McCrory, in the final year of his administration, was engaged in a fierce political election contest with Attorney General Roy Cooper to retain the governor’s office.
For the first time since Reconstruction, North Carolina was governed by Republicans beginning in 2012. The GOP had taken control of the legislature in 2011 and was initiating their conservative agenda, stymied by a Democratic governor with a veto stamp and a state supreme court dominated by Democrats. That changed in 2012, when former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory was elected governor. This signaled the start of what we now know as the culture war.
The first big step in 2013 was The Voter Information and Verification Act, more commonly known as the Voter ID bill. It required voters to present photo proof of identification before voting. Lawsuits followed quickly, claiming the law unfairly discriminated against Black and minority voters. The US Supreme Court agreed, saying the bill had “discriminatory intent.”
In March 2016, the legislature passed, and Governor McCrory immediately signed into law HB2, the infamous “bathroom bill.” It was passed in response to an ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council that protected rights of gay or transgender people, allowing them to use bathrooms based on their gender identity. The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (HB2) said that discrimination protection is limited to the sex designated on a person’s birth certificate.
Reaction was immediate and negative. In July, The National Basketball Association announced they would move the 2017 All Star game from Charlotte, a decision estimated to cost $100 million to the Queen City. In September, the NCAA announced they would move seven athletic championships from the state, including two rounds of basketball championship games. The Atlantic Coast Conference proclaimed it was moving the conference football championship out of state. Major entertainment events, conferences and conventions decided against holding events in our state. PayPal, Deutsche Bank, CoStar, Adidas and others canceled announced major economic development expansion projects and Bank of America, along with 80 other companies immediately called for the repeal of the bill.
The economic damage resulting from HB2 was estimated to be as much as 4 billion dollars. HB2 was the primary reason for Governor McCrory’s re-election defeat and McCrory called the legislature back into “special session” in December, hoping to repeal HB2. The deal fell apart but knowing they would have to face a Democrat as Governor, the special session did pass bills restricting the powers of the governor.
In March 2017, the legislature finally repealed HB2, replacing it with a compromise version of the bill.
The culture wars were on. In 2015, the President of the UNC System was fired just because he was a Democrat, and the UNC Board of Governors became more politicized. We witnessed the start of dismantling of traditional public schools using private school vouchers. Abortion restrictions were passed following the Dobbs decision and the 2023 legislative session attacked LGBT+ persons, with at least six anti-Trans bills. Governor Cooper vetoed much of this extreme legislation until Tricia Cotham changed party affiliation, giving Republicans veto-proof majorities.
GOP candidates running in November promise to reinforce and advance the attacks. Dan Bishop, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, is a staunch election denier and MAGA follower. Mark Robinson, the party’s nominee for Governor has decried that transgender women should be arrested for entering a woman’s rest room and referred to homosexuals as “filth.” And Michele Morrow, the GOP nominee for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, proclaimed that public schools were indoctrination centers, pushing social, political, and sexual agendas with their “woke” approaches. She said certain Democrats should be executed on live TV.
In spite of the culture wars, North Carolina has come a long way since COVID, enjoying economic growth, reduced unemployment and increased salaries. Record numbers of economic expansion projects promise great new jobs.
We can ill afford another blow like HB2 to our economy, our reputation or our way of life. But be aware! There are warning flags that the extremist political wing would take us back to those days.
We should decry those politicians and their culture agendas that represent only a minority of the people in our state. Listen carefully to what candidates are saying and choose wisely from those who want to create a more divisive, more partisan, less friendly and moderate environment in our state.
HB2 (or something like it) could happen again.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.  Contact him at