North Carolina Republicans began gathering in Greensboro Friday for their 2016 State Convention.
These are normally events where people rally around candidates, platforms and their party. This year, in this state however, it was also a chance for party faithful to show defiance against the Federal Government.
Everything was not all copacetic with North Carolina Republicans. The NC GOP is still showing the scars of having its popularly elected chairman ousted and replaced by party brass.
But this sometimes politely cantankerous crowd was downright giddy to see two men take the stage.
"There’s no gridlock in Raleigh. We’re getting so much done we’re getting tired." That’s Representative Skip Stam, the #2 in the North Carolina House.
He along with State Senator Ralph Hise were there to tell the assembled about all the State legislature has accomplished. Stam talked up jobs and the economy. But in the eyes of the crowd, Hise was the real star. It started with a jab at President Obama. "One of the greatest things about the Senate is I get to go to work everyday and call someone Mr. President that I respect."
That would be Lt. Governor Dan Forest who is also President of the North Carolina Senate. But it was hard to hear Forest's name over the crowd's cheers and applause.
Hise was just getting warmed up. And so was the crowd. "You have a state legislature that can stand for what is right," he told them, "In fact frankly, fails to understand how it’s controversial that we have said men should stay in the men's room and women should stay in the women’s room." For that reference to House Bill 2 the State Senator was greeted with thunderous applause generated by hundreds of Republican delegates, activists and officials.
All clearly were tuned in to the news that the US Justice Department has given the State until close of business Monday to declare they will not enforce North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2. They went apoplectic when the State Senator threw the biggest piece of red meat he had at this decidedly red crowd. Telling President Barack Obama and the US Justice Department to bring it on."You picked the wrong state to start this fight with."
With that the crowd went nuts. Everyone in the room jumped to their feet. Their hands in a blur of applause. One woman threw her hands in the air and danced.
For Democrats across North Carolina, overturning House Bill 2 will be a major plank in their election plans. Even the de facto Republican nominee for president, Donald J Trump has publicly come out against the law. "Um, I’m not going to agree with Donald Trump on every issue. And you just tapped on one I’m sure we disagree on." That’s Mark Harris, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in uptown Charlotte. Harris, by the way, says he will vote for Trump if not a bit begrudgingly.
Harris is a supporter of House Bill 2. And he has this hope for Governor Pat McCrory and other top Republicans as they face off against the US Justice Department, "I hope they’ll stand strong. I think the greater question is where’s our congressmen? This is the federal government breathing down the neck of North Carolina."
Not coincidentally, Harris is running for congress in North Carolina’s 9th District against incumbent fellow Republican Robert Pittenger. Harris says on HB 2, "I haven’t heard from Congressman Pittenger at all."
To that Congressman Pittenger says simply, "there are a lot of things occurring that the good Reverend Harris is not familiar with." In particular he says, "I spoke out very clearly regarding PayPal," when they halted plans to put 400 jobs in Charlotte because of House Bill 2. Pittenger says he’s still talking with the company to try to bring them back. But overall he says. "This is something that was started in the state. And it’s something that we speak out of personally, which I have. But it’s nothing that you can legislate from a federal position."
It seems views on House Bill 2 divide not just Republicans and Democrats on the campaign trail…but also Republican rivals for congress.