As controversy over HB2 roils campuses and boardrooms across the state, former Gov. Jim Martin weighs in with a simple suggestion: Listen to each other.
By Jim Martin
How did we ever get ourselves into such a mess? Otherwise-friendly companies withdraw plans to expand to North Carolina, or threaten to do so. Popular entertainers cancel concerts here, or threaten to do so. They had no problem with North Carolina a year ago.
Who did this to us? We did.
An exercise in politics got caught up in politics. Charlotte City Council wanted an ordinance sought by LGBT voters, and finally, after the recent election, had a majority to adopt it. Most important was extending anti-discrimination rights based on sexual preferences and orientations. Then, against cautionary advice from legislators, the Governor, and even supportive editors, they went “one bridge too far.” They added a right for transgender folks to use the bathroom of their choice, which they probably were using anyway. That was newsworthy.
What happened next was predictable, and forewarned: our North Carolina General Assembly called a special session to halt the ordinance before it took effect. Once House Bill 2, to repeal the bathroom ordinance, was open for amendment, strange things happened. Amendments that could have been taken up later were moved and approved with little debate or understanding. That was newsworthy.
The political reality is that this works great for both political parties. Each side can stand up for its respective, favored constituents. Democrats can stand firm in defense of liberal constituents and principles. Republicans can stand firm in defense of conservative constituents and principles. Neither has to listen to the other’s legitimate concerns. Each can righteously blame the other for overacting.
That is where this debacle really started. Politics in North Carolina, and most of America, has become so polarized that we don’t listen much to each other … because we no longer have to. Some legislative districts are so safe for Republicans that electable candidates may ignore liberal concerns. Some are so safe for Democrats that electable candidates may ignore conservative concerns.
Another factor, by the way, is the choice of many good moderates to abandon both political parties, leaving each with less moderation, so to speak. That’s a topic for another day.
What can we do now? First, both sides need to take time to listen to each other. We might learn how some young people have great difficulty dealing with their anatomy and hormones, in ways most of us could never begin to understand. Denying access to our state courts for protection leaves them vulnerable to harm from bullies. Our courts should be open for civil judgment. Hate crimes should be defined in enforceable law.
On the other hand, we might learn also that some people have had terrible experiences with sexual predators, and are fearful of laws that could make it easier for one to slip into girls’ locker rooms. It is not fear of transgender individuals, who have probably already been using such facilities without incident. (In almost 80 years of occasional visits to public bathrooms, I have never once dared to check out the qualifications of those standing next to me, and doubt that you have.)
The concern is for unintended consequences on both sides of this issue. Maybe if we adopted stronger punishment for predatory pretenders who do sneak in and violate the criminal law, it might reassure those who have been molested and others who share their fears. Besides, that’s an issue that would justify police action; unlike the City’s ordinance and the State’s HB2.
Some want to repeal all or parts of HB2. In this legislative session, partial repair may be possible; as some have indicated openness to reinstating access to the courts for civil remedies. With patience and goodwill, the court process should be restored.
The bathroom rule is another matter. If the City of Charlotte had not taken that step, we would be about where we were in 2015, with little public disturbance of big corporations, popular entertainers, sports leagues, and even daily newspapers; none of whom asked for this. Once that genie was called out of the bottle, a bigger genie was lurking in there, and it didn’t like what the first genie did. It’s possible this General Assembly could amend the bathroom clause of HB2, but it is problematic. No one yet has offered compromise language. A referendum has been suggested, and one can judge from their responses that both sides predict the same result. The General Assembly might be replaced, of course, but this issue will have far less effect on it than will each party’s presidential candidate.
The federal courts could overrule HB2, depending frankly on which set of judges hears it on appeal. By the time it reaches the Supreme Court, it may again depend on the presidential winner. The saner course would be for the General Assembly to take up the issue, which it has effectively tabled, conduct thoughtful hearings, and work out a reasonable balance of interests. Let reason and fairness prevail.
For some, the issue of which bathroom to use requires an official blessing. For most, it never gets a second thought. Until we stir it up.
Herbert F. Munt, III says
The main thing to me is that Governor Martin is correct. People have been using the rest room of their choice forever. I can’t see Transgender Males as a threat to women and girls. I think that this is thinly veiled prejudice. People just don’t want someone with a penis to enter a woman’s rest room.
Firstly, the women’s restrooms have stalls. Once one is in a stall, one has no way of knowing what the “plumbing” of others is.
Secondly, if someone wants to prey on young girls, they probably won’t dress as a woman.
Thirdly, if a Transgender male goes into a men’s room, she will be in grave danger.
Anne Bidez Schumann says
Herbert F. Munt, III…..Bravo!
Wyndham Robertson says
Governor Martin, thank you for sound suggestions on how to get out of this mess, and also for your clear explanation of how we got into it.
Mike Abel says
Thank you Governor Martin. We need a timeout to give both sides a chance to listen to each other. How about a simultaneous repeal of both House Bill 2 and the Charlotte ordinance?
Margaret almond says
Great idea, Mr Governor. Charlotte council is not an island within its self. They failed to to consider all the implications the action would cause. They knew what they were doing would cause controversary. I am glad I can say I know longer live in Charlotte! Chairman and council members step back and consider what you have caused. Yes, the genia is out of the bottle and you cannot put it back in.
Sam Johnson says
Mike Abel’s suggestion for a simultaneous repeal is a great idea!
Doug Copeland says
Governor Jim Martin, the voice of reason, doesn’t come up with a Solomon like solution but he does one thing no one has been willing to do. He encourages folks to sit down, talk and listen to one another. I had the honor of serving in Washington when he was a US Congressman. We both had the same experience, Republicans and Democrats talked to each other and we sat down and compromised. He was one of those effective Members of Congress who was open to listening and to good ideas. He never worried which side of the proverbial aisle the idea came from.
Jackie Jenkins says
You are so right. He is a statesman and leader not a traditional party politician. Loyal to his party, but more loyal to his principals. I never met with him that I did not see his intelligence, his humor and his kindness, and dedication to serve. We need more leaders like Governor Martin.
Dan Barefoot says
Fantastic and very rational remarks by Govervor Martin. I hope the General Assembly and current Governor will listen to him and do as he suggest.
Marge Livsey says
Many thanks to a Governor who served us well. It was a time when political parties actually talked with each other and worked together to serve the citizens. Maybe we didn’t have some of the problems we have today, because the two parties are now dominated by far right or far left, never to compromise for fear of losing elections.
P. Wolf says
“We” did not get into this mess. The Republican Governor and the Republican leaders in the General Assembly started this, escalated it and stubbornly dug in to make it worse. The Democrats do not share equal responsibility or blame and no amount of hand-holding Kumbaya will make this go away.
With all due respect, Governor Martin, this essay insults my intelligence.
Are you implying what he said about the Charlotte legislature going one step too far by feeling the need to make a law that gives the thumbs-up for transgender people to use whichever bathroom they identify with, which they were already doing, is not true?
You aren’t digesting the entire theme he is expressing here. Sure, the Republicans are to blame for HB2, but he is essentially describing the politcal version of Newton’s “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” when he says HB2 was the predictable response when Charlotte passed an unnecessary ordinance. That ordinance is a prime example of Democrats seeking to govern our lives in areas that don’t need governing in the name of liberal rights and freedom. Everyone who voted for that ordinance knew there would be a reaction from the Republican state officials, and still willingly engaged in brinkmanship politics.
Thus, blame absolutely can be placed on both parties. Equal blame is semantics and would be debated ad nauseam. That was never even a sub-plot of this essay, though. By focusing on “not being to blame,” you played into the subject of his essay: the one who is too proud, won’t listen to the other, chooses to turn, cross your arms, dig in, and refuse to come to the table due.
Michael Thompson says
Mr. Wolf, the attitude you are displaying in your comment is one reason the obstacles to compromise on this subject seem insurmountable. The Republicans in Raleigh did not start this. There were no ripples in the pond until the Charlotte City Council rolled out it’s ordinance, and basically stuck it’s collective thumb in the Legislature’s eye. Now, did the Legislature overreact? Yes, to a degree I think they did. But make no mistake, this debacle had its genesis in the Queen City.
Paul Jones says
You are not aware that Democrat Mayor Jennifer Roberts, pandering to her base LGBT base was warned that poking the Bear, i.e., the Republican controlled Legislature, would respond in a manner to nullify the Charlotte ordinance. Then, you may be aware, and chose to ignore the obvious; I can’t believe an intelligent person would do that. The Mayor now acknowledges she had NO idea pushing the ordinance would cause a backlash. Really! She is anything but naive when it comes to politics. She may lack common sense, but she is not stupid………well…… Suffice it to say she knew exactly what she was doing and felt if she could embarrass the other party, she would win points with her base. To deny the Democrats are not responsible for lighting the fuse of this political explosion shows a lack of understanding about real clear politics. Insult your intelligence? Really!
Debbie Norris says
This mess was started by the Charlotte governing body. And by the law they passed, I would hazard a guess that group was primarily liberal Democrats. So you would be wrong, this mess was started by liberal Democrats and then enhanced by conservative Republicans. So former Gov. Martin was correct in his comments.
With all respect, P. Wolf, you should consider the situation from the beginning, not just the outcome, before passing judgement. As former Gov. Martin states, we should really listen to each other and not just “dig in our heels” stubbornly saying our way is right while the other way is wrong. That is the only way a fair solution will be found.
Ernie Murray says
Governor Martin (who, were he still in office, would be run out of the governorship on a rail by the current crop of Republicans and condemned as a “stinking liberal” for his reasonable and conciliatory comments) is absolutely correct when he uses the word “we.” There’s plenty of blame to go around. I firmly support the repeal of HB-2 in its entirety, and I fault the Republican leaders in the General Assembly for their over-reaching chicanery, demagoguery and pig-headedness; however, it was clearly the City Council of Charlotte that started this mess by adopting an ordinance that was unnecessary and that they knew was going to push all the hot buttons of the troglodytes in Raleigh.
Yes, a clear demonstration of the problem here.
Name calling and”my way or the highway”
Tim Ferguson says
Finally, some sanity. The bill was political grandstanding for the political voters. As Governor Martin put it so well, I had never even considered this issue. I do think I would notice a transgender male coming into the mens bathroom. I asked my wife if she had ever had any incident. Never. Pure Politics! This is another case of
POLITICS and PARTY before the PEOPLE
Governor Martin, thank you for the very first, truly sane and truly balanced, response to HB2 that I have seen.
Dick Robinson says
Profound thanks to Governor Martin for the breath of reason and sanity with respect to this difficult controversy. Wish we had more like him in our government positions today.
Call Me Tim says
“Who did this to us? We did.”
Ummm no. While I appreciate the moderate, even rational tone of the viewpoint, the effort to place blame on “we” is off.
If you want to say this started in Charlotte, then show us an unconstitutional city ordinance.
McCrory and the Republican members of the GA reacted, or rather over reacted to Charlotte’s “constitutionally-okay” ordinance. Now, because of the Republican overreaction, which is nothing short of a multimillion dollar punch in our own face, our state citizens are bearing the negative economic effects of short sighted , scared conservatives.
Frankly, I would have been fine with a legal, appropriate political response. That’s politics. But when you rush legislation through that is written by people of at best, average intelligence, suddenly, you end up denying people’s constitutional rights.
The weight of this total f@&# up lies on those who rushed this through, wrote it, sponsored it. A vast majority of these being the governor and the his cronies.
The Charlotte City Council enacted a measure to protect the human rights and dignity of all of its constituents. The Governor and the General Assembly enacted a measure to deny the human rights and dignity of some, to deny redress for many, and on top of that, to prevent local governments from establishing minimum wage ordinances to improve the livelihoods of their constituents and the health of their economies. The two sides are not equally to blame, and no amount of “adult in the room” posturing can obfuscate this point.
Michael Thompson says
Finally someone speaks with clarity and real common sense on this matter. Gov. Martin puts this entire issue in proper perspective and I can only hope the calmer heads in Raleigh adopt this attitude and work their way to a solution. I have repeatedly said both sides of this are yelling past each other, not talking, but yelling, and it’s digging us in deeper and deeper. This state and this nation are so polarized it is hard to see any compromise on the horizon. But of course we can always hope.
J. Wall says
Governor Martin – I appreciate the invitation to both sides to sit down, and the acknowledgement that we need to fix this mess. A total repeal, however, is the only way to clean up this mess. The bill takes away the rights of all state citizens to seek a redress for discrimination in employment, and that is not just limited to gender or even sexual orientation discrimination, but race, national origin, religion, age and disability protections are all stripped away. Likewise, it eviscerates all “local rule” initiatives, prohibiting cities and counties to govern themselves. If they repeal the law and then enact some law addressing the transgender bathroom issue, that would be the lesser of two evils (and would probably be struck down by a federal court), but if they try a legislative fix, it will leave these much more harmful provisions in tact — which I hope was not their intent all along. Everyone I have heard speak in support of the bill only mentions “bathroom issues,” and fails to acknowledge or address these larger problems.
Betsy Chapman says
HR 2 is a solution looking for a problem that does not exist. It is not can not be enforced unless the state wants to post guards at public bathrooms. This is a “wedge issue” promoted by Republicans to get out the vote and please their base who is fearful of the LGBT community. It presents our beautiful state as an ignorant, backward place!
Agnes Powell says
If my daughter is an athlete attending a state competition in Charlotte, will she be dressing with transgender males?
Don Stevenson says
Seems the chickens come home to roost. This Republican Governor who I will name as Patrick and the Republican Legislature who I will refer to as “Who Done it” are both wrong.
It has little to do with listening to each other. When “Who Done It ” pass the law prohibiting Same Sex Marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court who is overwhelmingly Conservative told Who Done it to UNDOIT. Now, Patrick and Who Done It have declared they WON’T UNDOIT. The United States Department of Justice has now weighed in calling for a meeting of Patrick and Who Done It to rethink what thinking little did. Never mind talking to each other, Governor Martin has put his finger on the problem, it ain’t that not listening to each other is the problem, the problem is that Patrick and Who Done it CAN’T THINK STRAIGHT. There is something queer about this bathroom bill.
Maylon Little says
I applaud Gov. Martin’s thoughts. They are constructive. I too think both the Charlotte ordinance and H2-B should be repealed and start over or just go back to what we did before these issues arose and do nothing. We got along well before this issue came up recently. .
raymond ledford says
Governor, as a democrat who thought you served our state well. thanks you for your common sense approach to HB2. But the legislature acted too hastily and without really listening to “each other.”
M B Blankenship jr says
You have always represented your state in keeping with the highest standards of public service
MacGregor Frank says
Governor Martin–Your voice of reason is valuable advice for situations in which reasonable compromise positions exist. In the present case, however, the “bathroom bill” in the guise of reasonable response to a real problem or potential problem legalizes limits to individual liberties & communal rights that harms everyone except a handful of legislators who are either completely ignorant about LGBT people or–worse–cynical in passing legislation that makes them appear reasonable to other ignorant people. In such a situation compromise is inadequate & uncalled for. The bill should be repealed as quickly as possible, its legislative proponents should apologize to the people of NC, & they should themselves repay the $42,000 incurred by calling the special session to create & pass the egregiously wrong bill.
Gordon Walker says
The intelligence of a scientist paired with leadership forged in common sense! And, people wonder why a Rubik’s Cube nor Rufus ever stood a chance? Here is yet another reason I will always be proud to have been a leader of College Students for Martin.
April B. Lane says
Thank you for your wise suggestions. Now we must seek candidates for office who are willing to listen to all sides of an issue and make ethical and practical compromise for without compromise a democracy can not exist.
Richard Baucom, Jr. says
Governor Martin has this mess “spot on” in this article and basically what used to be a personal problem with some in the LGBT community has now become a public problem which many North Carolinians never wanted in the first place. The Charlotte city council and certain LGBT groups including EqualityNC are the ones who created this mess that was never a problem to begin with for the majority of the people. The one thing that has been lost that probably will never be regained is the mutual respect for our fellow man and it is all because of the selfishness of a select few people that demand they be heard because they refuse to deal with their own problems on their own. Blame it on the left or blame it on the right, but the bottom line is for every law or ordinance we are forced to follow, that is another freedom that has been lost.
Betty Rogers says
How, then, do we proceed from here on this issue and others? Somehow negotiation has become a sign of weakness and that is to be feared worse than death. Also negotiation takes time since thoughtful conversation takes time and we are in such a hurry-especially if we think we can “score” points by making the other side look bad. Even children in a playground do a better job of settling things.
Paul Meggett says
A well-written piece. I hope that those who read it won’t resort to polar extremes and the name-calling that far too often pervades our society today. Instead, I hope that we can actually engage each other in thoughtful, meaningful discussion. Thank you Governor Martin.
HB2 represents unconstitutional legislation that allows for discrimination against all working people in NC. Although at present North Carolinians have been divided and distracted by the so-called “bathroom” portion of the bill, the winners of the bill are special interest represented by the NC Republican controlled legislature in Raleigh. Governor McCrory has hosted his “Tea Party” on the backs of hard working North Carolinians. He arrogantly accuses the Federal government of over-stepping, while he and his legislature over-step and restrict the autonomy of locale jurisdictions to even consider living wage legislation let alone protecting constitutional rights. Governor Martin represents an era of ethical governing that included a broader dialogue, which we should all hope to benefit from again in future elected leaders.