'Bathroom Bill' Sponsor Eyes House Run

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A North Carolina legislator best known as the architect of the state's so-called bathroom bill three years ago is racking up contributions and endorsements as he runs in the repeat of a congressional race marred by a ballot fraud scandal.

State Sen. Dan Bishop of Charlotte is a leading contender among 10 candidates in next week's GOP primary in the 9th Congressional District special election. The state elections board unanimously ordered the new election after Mark Harris, the Republican in last year's race against Democrat Dan McCready, used a political operative accused of improperly collecting mail-in ballots. Harris opted not to run again and McCready faces no primary opponent.

Virtually alone on the political calendar this year, the special election is likely to draw national attention. As is Bishop's candidacy, if he wins the Republican primary.

In 2016, Bishop sponsored House Bill 2, a law that voided a Charlotte ordinance expanding LGBT rights and prevented similar anti-discrimination rules anywhere else in the state. HB2 was nicknamed the "bathroom bill" because it also directed transgender people to use public bathrooms and showers that matched their birth sex.

The measure grabbed national headlines and prompted boycotts by entertainers, governments and some businesses thinking about moving jobs to North Carolina. The Associated Press found in 2017 that the law cost the state more than $3.76 billion , primarily from businesses that decided to skip intended moves to North Carolina.

Bishop said the pushback showed he's unafraid to stand up for what he believes.

"It did the state no good to have that controversy, but it's an exhausted issue," Bishop said when entering the race in March.

Bishop's stance drew staunch support from evangelical interest groups, who could represent a key constituency in the Tuesday primary, where low turnout is expected.

The North Carolina Values Coalition, a lobbying group for conservative Christian issues, endorsed Bishop and said his leadership on HB2 brought "common sense back to our State by stopping the government from violating our religious freedoms."

GOP political consultant Paul Shumaker, who is not involved with any of the 9th district candidates, said HB2 is likely to divide voters.

"If you look at those that are supporters of HB2, that will create energy for Dan Bishop in a Republican primary," Shumaker said. "If you look at those who are opponents to it, that's going to create energy for Dan McCready in a general election against Dan Bishop if Dan Bishop is the nominee."

The law was partially repealed in 2017 and now is barely on the radar of Republican voter Brandon Reeves. The 42-year-old car dealer from Waxhaw rates abortion, gun rights and lower taxes as his top issues.

"To me, that's not an issue right now because there's no debate on it --- it's already been had," said Reeves, who is backing one of the other GOP candidates, Stony Rushing. "It's water under the bridge at this point. The pro-life issue is first and foremost to me."

But Bishop knows HB2 remains his legacy.

So in December, on the same day lawmakers voted to require primaries if a new 9th district election was ordered, he asked state analysts to study HB2's economic impact.

The General Assembly's top economist reported back to Bishop in January that the state's overall economy didn't take much of a hit from HB2, while estimates by the AP and others counted specific business reversals.

But the effect of any legislative change --- especially one in effect for only a year --- is impossible to measure in a $570 billion state economy affected by national and international influences, economist Barry Boardman wrote in response to Bishop. Nor was it possible to judge how much HB2 influenced choices by companies and event planners, Boardman wrote. Tourists didn't noticeably boycott the state as visitor spending rose 4% in 2016 and 2.8% in 2017, in line with the previous three years.

The finding that tourists never shied away from visiting --- and spending --- in North Carolina, was notable, said Alex Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University's libertarian Mercatus Center. But a better study would compare tourism revenues in neighboring states and look more closely at company location decisions, he said.

"The effect could be small relative to the state economy and yet still have been significant," Tabarrok wrote in an email.

Bishop said the analysis indicates that losses tallied by The AP and others "were fake news."

GOP consultant Shumaker said he doubts the report would persuade anyone.

"I think the report is completely irrelevant to the campaign," he said. "You've got a government report from the legislature that says it had a negligible impact compared to numerous news stories about major events being pulled from North Carolina during that time."