If you want to see how badly politicians can mess up a state, look no farther than our neighbor North Carolina.
On March 23, the North Carolina legislature met in special session to pass the now-infamous House Bill 2, a bill that restricted transgender people to using only government and school bathrooms that corresponded to the sex listed on their birth certificate. The bill also killed an anti-discrimination ordinance passed by Charlotte to protect the civil rights of gays.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed the “bathroom bill” into law a little more than 11 hours after the special session had convened.
A week earlier on March 16, Georgia legislators had passed a similar law, House Bill 757, that was not quite as far-reaching as North Carolina’s new law but could have legalized discrimination against gays in the cause of “religious freedom.”
Unlike his counterpart in North Carolina, Gov. Nathan Deal waited until a few days after the legislature adjourned and then, much to everyone’s surprise, vetoed HB 757.
“As I have examined the protections this bill seeks to provide to religious organizations and people of faith, I can find no examples that any of the things this bill seeks to protect us against have ever occurred in Georgia,” Deal noted in his veto message.
Deal was crucified by religious conservatives for not signing the bill, with one of his critics decrying that the governor “chose Mammon over God.”
Several months later, however, it appears that the Georgia governor took much the wiser course than the North Carolina governor on this issue.
Since Deal vetoed the bill, no major movie productions have been canceled in Georgia, and such corporations as Honeywell, Voestalpine, Global Payments, Adidas, Voxpro and Keysight Technologies have announced they will either move here or expand existing operations in the state.
Things haven’t gone quite so well in the Tar Heel State, which has been paying a steep price for passing a law that is seen as discriminatory to the LGBT community.
Musical acts like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam canceled concerts scheduled for North Carolina. The German financial giant Deutsche Bank said it was halting an expansion of its North Carolina offices that would have employed 250 people, and PayPal abandoned plans for a 400-employee operation center in Charlotte.
The NBA canceled plans to hold its 2017 all-star game in Charlotte and will move the game elsewhere.
The NCAA struck the biggest blow last week by saying it will withdraw seven athletic championship events scheduled for North Carolina, including men’s basketball tournament games, because of HB 2. That’s the ultimate heresy for a state where college basketball is worshipped.
Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson, who is the chairman of the NCAA’s board of governors, explained that the organization will not endorse a state that discriminates against a portion of its citizenry.
“This decision is consistent with the NCAA’s long-standing core values of inclusion, student-athlete well-being and creating a culture of fairness,” Peterson said.
One day after the NCAA bombshell, the Atlantic Coast Conference said it was also moving its championship competitions out of North Carolina for the 2016-17 season in response to the passage of HB 2.
North Carolina politicians who were so eager to pass HB 2 last March are now reeling from the financial and political impact of their actions. McCrory, a Republican who is running for another term as governor, has been trailing his Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper, in the polls.
“I did not realize the consequences of this bill, that it would have worldwide consequences, and they just keep piling up,” said state Sen. Tamara Barringer, one of the lawmakers who voted for HB 2. She’s now calling for the “substantial and immediate” repeal of the law.
While North Carolina legislators try to cope with the results of the actions they took so hastily, Georgia lawmakers who introduced the religious freedom bill say they will try to pass another version of the measure next year.
Our neighbors to the north have shown that ideological purity comes with a high price tag. Are Georgia’s politicians really willing to wreck the state’s economy to please some religious conservatives?
It could all come down to Deal again and his willingness to use his veto pen.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.