What gives with the NC Chamber? There was a time when, in its previous iteration as North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, the NC Chamber was mostly a force for slightly-right-of-center moderation in state politics and policy. Over the last several years, however, since former Martin administration official and public education booster Phil Kirk was replaced with conservative fire breather and anti-tax zealot Lew Ebert, things have changed dramatically.
At no point in recent times was this more evident than last week when the Chamber remained publicly silent while state lawmakers and Gov. McCrory rammed through the most regressive and far-reaching LGBT discrimination law in the U.S. — a law that is provoking a firestorm of protest and scores of boycotts around the country. As has been noted on this website and others, dozens of the state’s most prominent corporations and local chambers of commerce have spoken out against House Bill 2 in recent days, but strangely and disturbingly, their overarching trade association — the NC Chamber — remains silent.
How can this be so?
There certainly aren’t any major corporate voices speaking up in favor of the discrimination law. The scanty list of business supporters collected by the pro-discrimination NC Values Coalition is almost exclusively made up of obscure mom and pop outfits — many of which have an obvious religious ax to grind.
Still, for some reason, the NC Chamber remains publicly silent. On the group’s website, it’s as if last week’s special session never even happened.
Again, how can this be so? Is the Chamber — a group whose fingerprints are on virtually every major piece of legislation that impacts the state’s business community — really completely disinterested?
Common sense and the rumor mill on Jones Street tell us that this is simply impossible. According to numerous observers of last week’s kangaroo special session, there’s a reason that the Chamber stayed quiet — namely, that it was bought off with the broad language added to the bill at the last minute to deep-six local living wage ordinances and to bar all state court lawsuits against employers who fire workers for discriminatory reasons.
It is a plausible theory. Noxious and revolting, but utterly plausible.
Whatever the case — that the Chamber went along with the hateful new law as part of a cynical backroom deal or that it simply is so far down the ideological rabbit hole that it literally doesn’t care and will go merrily along with anything the state’s right-wing leaders put forth, it’s not a pretty picture.
If nothing else, it would at least be nice to know the truth. Let’s hope some Chamber members (many of whom have already spoken out against HB2) as well as members of the news media raise these questions of Ebert and his team at the group’s annual meeting that commences tomorrow in Greensboro. Stay tuned.