Can lessons learned in a successful effort to provide compensation for victims of state-sponsored sterilization help solve the problem HB2 (the bathroom bill) is causing North Carolina?
In his recent book, “Rage to Redemption in the Sterilization Age: A Confrontation with American Genocide,” John Railey, editorial page editor at the “Winston-Salem Journal,” showed how a determined legislative leader can persuade colleagues to put aside opposition to legislation that would remove an ugly stain on North Carolina’s reputation.
As Railey explains, during the last century, North Carolina had one of the nation’s most aggressive eugenics programs. It provided for the sterilization of people with diminished mental capability or who were determined for other reasons that they should not have children.
Railey writes, “The program was a betrayal of the picture North Carolina was presenting to the world, that of a Southern state forward-thinking on business, transportation and race relations, more progressive than its neighbors Virginia and South Carolina, more enlightened than Mississippi or Alabama.”
He follows the efforts of sterilization victim Nial Cox Ramirez to secure compensation for herself and others for the wrong the state inflicted on her. Those efforts were floundering even though Gov. Michael Easley had apologized for the state’s role in the sterilizations and appointed a commission to study the matter of compensation. But he and Gov. Beverly Perdue were unable to persuade the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to act. However, when U.S. Senator Thom Tillis was speaker of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, he promised Railey, “If I don’t get compensation ratified this session, I’ll consider it a personal failure.”
While others in the legislature remained cool to the idea, Tillis used the substantial powers of the speakership to push through the funding that provided Ramirez and other victims a small measure of long-deferred compensation.
Without that high-level commitment from a leader at the top of the legislative food chain, North Carolina’s reputation would still be carrying the burden of its failure to ameliorate the consequences of unfairly treating some of its citizens.
Is there a legislative leader today who can follow Tillis’s example and lead us out of the mess HB2 is causing North Carolina?
Can that person find a way to persuade the National Basketball Association, National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Atlantic Coast Conference to take North Carolina off their blacklists and bring back the sports contests that North Carolinians love and that bring millions of dollars and favorable attention to our state?
Can that leader find a way to remove the HB2 barrier to companies that bring new businesses and new jobs to our state?
I think Tillis’ successor, House Speaker Tim Moore, has the tools to do the job if he has the same kind of commitment that Tillis brought to the task.
It would not be easy.
While some Republicans in the House favor repealing HB2, most do not. As a general rule, House Republican leadership requires a majority of GOP members’ support before they allow a bill to be considered by the entire House.
Assuming, as many believe, that a bill to repeal HB2 would pass if all members vote, Moore’s task is simply to persuade the majority of Republican House members to allow the matter to come to the floor.
It would be a tough task. A persuasive Moore would say, “I know you can’t vote for the repeal. You don’t have to. Just let us bring it to the floor.”
If he were successful in the House, Moore would have to help the Senate leader, Phil Berger, pull off something similar in the Senate.
If Moore and Berger are willing to go forward and find a way to repeal HB2, they should get the same kind of praise that Tillis earned when he removed a stain on North Carolina’s record.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.