Facts are often the first casualty in tough political races. They can be twisted and distorted to allow a candidate to claim a victory even one they don’t deserve.
Governor Pat McCrory’s campaign had just such a moment this week. It has to do with House Bill 2, a drug company and a $20 million investment.
This story begins with a press release and a bland headline:
McCrory Campaign Praises Braeburn Pharmaceutical’s Decision To Continue With North Carolina Investment.
But what followed was a series of statements from the governor’s campaign manager that were a bit spicy, to say the least. (We’ll dissect those statements in a moment).
In response to an interview request, the McCrory campaign says it’s happy to let the press release stand on its own. Someone else had a bit more to say. Her name is Behshad Sheldon, the president and CEO of Braeburn Pharmaceuticals.
The Back Story
Braeburn is a New Jersey-based specialty drug maker. It focuses on treatments for opioid addiction and mental health disorders.
In mid-March, the company announced it would build a new manufacturing and research facility in Durham County. Then, Sheldon says, a funny thing happened.
"A week after we announced that we were going spend nearly $20 million and create 52 jobs in North Carolina, HB 2 was passed. Rather suddenly."
Indeed, House Bill 2 was proposed, debated, approved, and signed into law in just 12 hours.
"And after the passage of this, what we consider quite unjust law," Sheldon says, adding "We decided to rethink the situation."
The new facility was put on hold. Then, on Tuesday, Braeburn announced it will continue with plans for the facility.
Now, we get to the meat of this story, those statements from the McCrory Campaign about Braeburn’s announcement.
“The company’s press release, which cites poll numbers and a meeting between the company’s CEO and Attorney General Roy Cooper, raises strong suspicions that threats to pull out of North Carolina were unfortunately more to do with politics than business from the very beginning.”
Indeed, Braeburn’s press release cites poll numbers, but McCrory’s campaign doesn’t say what those number are. And there’s a reason for that.
Braeburn’s refers to a poll which shows “minimal support for HB 2 among North Carolina voters.”
As for this being more about politics than business, Sheldon says it’s about both. "We have along with our business mandate a very much a social justice mandate."
She adds, the company picked Durham County because of its pool of young, college-educated professionals. Sheldon worries House Bill 2 could cause some of those folks to go elsewhere, thus hurting business.
It makes reference to North Carolina’s booming economy and business climate. But also has this:
“Whether they were really ever serious about pulling their investment or not, Braeburn Pharmaceuticals made the right decisions not to follow through on their threats while this national issue works its way through the courts.”
So was Braeburn serious about ditching North Carolina? "We were serious," says Sheldon, "We looked at other opportunities. We were willing to lose money in the process." In fact, she says, "honestly if we had known about HB 2 in advance we would not have signed the lease."
As for letting the courts decide the fate of HB 2. Sheldon says that makes sense. And McCrory himself brought that point up. "We talked to the Governor who said he thinks it's in the hands of the courts now. And that it has essentially become a national issue in scope such that deciding not staying in North Carolina because of it is not particularly sensible."
But for whatever reason, McCrory’s campaign fails to mention any meeting between the Governor and Braeburn.
This one is squarely aimed at McCrory’s gubernatorial rival.
“Roy Cooper and his allies continue to attack our state’s economy and reputation for their own political gain. We call on Cooper and his allies to drop their campaign to hurt North Carolina’s economy immediately.”
So is this some grand left wing conspiracy? No, Sheldon says.
"No one pushed us to leave but ourselves."
The CEO did meet with Attorney General Roy Cooper, but that meeting went very differently than how it’s being portrayed by the McCrory campaign.
"Roy Cooper absolutely pushed us to stay and fight from within," Sheldon says.
Not mentioned in the McCrory campaign press release is just why Braeburn decided to go forward with its new North Carolina facility.
"I would say the single thing that made a difference was that the Department of Justice suit," Sheldon says. "That’s what made the difference because we think the law will not stand."
Sheldon adds the company did not want to penalize Durham County, where the county commission unanimously passed a resolution condemning House Bill 2.