Twenty people have died in North Carolina following Hurricane Matthew-related flooding, and tens of thousands remain without power. On Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory activated the NC Disaster Relief Fund to help with long-term recovery efforts.
It wasn't that long ago, however, that McCrory wanted to reallocate $500,000 of that fund to help pay legal fees associated with defending the state's anti-LGBT "bathroom bill," or HB2.
HB2, described as the most anti-LGBT legislation in the US, requires people to use public restrooms based on the sex listed on their birth certificate. Since McCrory signed the bill in March, sporting events, musicians, businesses, and other organizations have boycotted the state. Most recently, California banned state-funded travel to North Carolina in response to the discriminatory law.
In order to help cover the cost of litigation in defending HB2 in a handful of lawsuits, including one leveraged by the Department of Justice, McCrory allowed a bill to become law in August without his signature that included a provision of $500,000 in disaster relief funds to be moved into a fund controlled by McCrory to be used for costs associated with HB2. A spokesman said the governor didn't sign the bill because he had preferred the money come from Attorney General Roy Cooper's office. Cooper, who's running against McCrory in the governor's race, has refused to defend the legislation.
A few days later, McCrory's office announced it would not, in fact, be using the disaster relief money, which had a reserve of $1.6 billion. Instead, according to a release, the governor would continue to pull money from various agency and departmental budgets for litigation expenses.
But with the state's history of natural disasters, especially hurricanes, the use of those funds for defending HB2 caused a significant public perception problem at the time.
J. Michael Bitzer is a professor of politics and history at Catawba College in North Carolina. "Half a million dollars, in comparison to what the state has experienced with Hurricane Matthew, is probably a small amount in what has been the economic impact of the storm," he tells Broadly. It's also not uncommon for governors to request money to be transferred across accounts like this, he explains. "But with the state's history of natural disasters, especially hurricanes, the use of those funds for defending HB2 caused a significant public perception problem at the time."
But the backlash "probably [spoke] more to the political controversy that HB2 generated than anything else," Bitzer says. "Even with the governor's decision in early August not to rely on the disaster relief funds transfer to support the lawsuits defending HB2, the Cooper campaign has been hitting the governor hard on HB2 and making it a centerpiece of the campaign. With the size of the disaster caused by Hurricane Matthew, if McCrory had used the transfer funds for defending HB2, then Cooper's campaign would have been able to hit his opponent even harder on HB2."
Certainly, that was the case during a gubernatorial debate on Tuesday. Cooper called for HB2's repeal, saying, "It writes discrimination into our law and it has been a disaster for our economy."
McCrory remains unmoved in his convictions. When asked during the debate which bathroom Caitlyn Jenner would be allowed to use in the state, McCrory replied, "If she's going into a shower facility at UNC Chapel Hill, after running around the track, she's going to use the men's shower."
Just as Hurricane Matthew was making its way toward North Carolina last Friday, McCrory met with conservative leaders and complained about the grief he's endured because of HB2. According to an audio recording obtained by BuzzFeed News, the governor told attendees of the Family Research Council-sponsored event that he and his wife had been "shunned for a political disagreement."
He also said he's "the farthest thing from a bigot" and that he loves everyone and wants to treat them equally. As for transgender people, he said, "I want to hug 'em and say I love 'em. But I don't agree with the concept of redefining gender. That is a major societal change."