From My Seat on Jones Street

Two weeks ago, I celebrated my 60th birthday. Over the course of that celebration with family and friends, I had opportunity to recall and reflect on events in my life.  I grew up here in Orange County – all of my childhood during the civil rights era.  I remember vividly what it was like to be discriminated against, to be denied access, and to be feared simply because I was considered different. I can tell you what it is like to be considered less than, not as good as, and simply ignored for reasons that were not clear to me. Fortunately, I can also tell you how it feels to be accepted, embraced and chosen. For that I am grateful and feel a sense of duty to do my part make certain that no one else is subject to the same type of unfairness and injustice. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Since House Bill 2 became law in our state, much has been said, jobs and revenue have been lost, events cancelled, more than 200 companies and corporations have called for the law to be repealed, and once again North Carolina is facing national ridicule. The financial impact is no longer just speculative, but measurable.  Here in Orange County, the economic impact of HB 2 is being felt in the tourism industry, with several conferences cancelled over the past month. They include the Maternal Child Healthcare Training Conference, the Foundation of Earth Science Conference and the National MCH Workforce Development Conference.

 I have been asked on several occasions why I walked out of the Chamber before the vote was called on this bill. Democrats’ efforts to find a common ground with our Republican colleagues have been consistently unsuccessful over the past several years. Through political gerrymandering, Republicans in the legislature have established voter-proof districts and, as a result, have offered no indication to us that they are willing to work with us on behalf of the people of this state.

 The entire Senate Democratic Caucus had grave concerns with the methods the Republicans used to call the special session, as well as how House Bill 2 was drafted and presented. All of our proposed amendments to the bill that were intended to minimize its discriminatory impact were stonewalled.

 After spending the day having our arguments against House Bill 2 fall on deaf ears in committee hearings, we as a caucus felt that the strongest action we could take against the bill and the process in which it was brought to a vote was one of symbolic disobedience. Our votes would not change the outcome of House Bill 2’s passage; but our walk out sent a statement to Republicans and to the public that we would not condone or participate in a process that is not inclusive of all elected representatives.

 Unfortunately, we have reached a point in our state’s political system where diplomacy and respect for the legislative process are not honored as they once were. Our efforts to practice diplomatic governance with the current leadership have not been successful. But we continue to keep our doors open to them to operate on behalf of the people’s best interests.

 In my opinion, House Bill 2’s creation was a uniquely flagrant affront to our system. Republicans sent a strong, direct message to us and to the people of North Carolina that they have little regard for equality or an open democratic process. We, as a caucus, felt that an equally strong response was warranted.

 Our walk out should not be misconstrued as giving up the fight. On the contrary, House Bill 2 renewed our commitment to turning the tides in the General Assembly – and we need as much support as we can get to restore respect for government transparency and collaboration. 

 While the Senate Democratic Caucus is gravely concerned by the Department of Justice’s letters to Governor McCrory and UNC System President, Margaret Spellings, the determination by the federal government that HB 2 is a violation of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX comes as no surprise.

 These are serious violations and, if this unconstitutional law is not repealed, North Carolina stands to lose more than $4 billion in federal funding for education and transportation. But more importantly, a group of North Carolinians find themselves feeling the pangs of discrimination, fighting a new civil rights battle.

 Last week, I cosponsored Senate Bill 784 filed by Senators Terrie Van Duyn, Mike Woodard, and Jeff Jackson that calls for the repeal of HB 2 as well as restorative funding to North Carolina’s Human Relations Commission.  While the bill was sent to the Ways and Means Committee, it is our hope that the senate will bring the bill to the floor for a vote, so that we can restore justice and fairness to all North Carolinians and minimize further damage to our state’s economy and reputation. 

 Please continue to contact my office to share your concerns on issues, or if my office can be of any assistance to you.  Thank you for the opportunity to represent you in Raleigh.   

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