Moonwalking into the Past

The state of North Carolina has become the latest entry in that cyclical process that temporarily renders itself an object of national embarrassment with a self-inflicted wound. The legislature passed a bill that was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, during a special session, demonstrating everything that is wrong when one conducts the people’s business in a reactionary manner.

The law prohibits local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules to grant protections to gay and transgender people. The North Carolina law demonstrates that it is indeed possible to moonwalk into the 20th century.

The legislature wasted little time to convene in order to respond to an anti-discrimination ordinance recently approved by the city of Charlotte. Charlotte’s local ordinance provided protections based on sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity, including letting transgender people use the public facilities that correspond with their gender identity, not gender at birth.

Unlike the legislature, Charlotte took roughly a year to study the issue in order to arrive at a judicious decision, taking into consideration the well-being of all residents of the city.

Given the haste with which the state bill was written, it’s quite possible that many lawmakers did not read the bill before it was introduced during the special session.

All legislation, regardless of forethought, comes with unintended consequences. It is guaranteed when legislation is birthed in a reactionary and ignorant manner. The legislature reacted to the outcome without any consideration as to how Charlotte reached its decision. It was ignorant because it was driven by suppositions that possessed no basis in fact.

If this were an infomercial, now would be the time for me to say: “But wait! There’s more!”

In addition to the state prohibiting local municipalities from creating anti-discrimination policies, the legislature seized the opportunity to create an omnibus bill that also prohibits local governments from raising minimum wage levels above the state level for contractors with which it deals.

What happened to local control? Or is that merely the pabulum that one utters when running for office?

After signing the bill, the governor tweeted: “Ordinance defied common sense, allowing men to use women’s bathroom/locker room for instance. That’s why I signed bipartisan bill to stop it.”

With all due respect, the governor’s statement defies common sense, which speaks to the hasty nature that created the bill.

The price for the governor’s “common sense” may be a hefty one. There is already talk of moving the NBA all-star game, which was slated next year for Charlotte. What if the NCAA decides to forgo North Carolina during March Madness?

Several businesses have already expressed concern with the law. North Carolina is on the cusp of becoming the “Silicon Valley of the East.” How will this law impact the state, given that a number of tech companies have also expressed concern?

The latter question is no longer a hypothesis. Two weeks ago PayPal announced plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte and employ over 400 people in skilled jobs. CEO Dan Schulman recently announced the company will look elsewhere.

According to The Associated Press, Attorney General Roy Cooper, who will run against McCrory in November, stated that his office won’t defend this “national embarrassment” against an impending federal lawsuit.

While I have problems with the law, I am also troubled by the position taken by Cooper. Isn’t part of the attorney general’s responsibilities to represent the state in federal court? Where does it state that he or she is at liberty to choose which laws they will defend?

But placed in an historical context, the Charlotte ordinance and the legislature’s response to it becomes another data point in the tension created by “We the People.”

When those words were originally penned in the preamble of the Constitution, “We the People,” though not expressly stated, meant white, male landowners. Throughout American history, each time a group outside the “we” applied for admittance, they were met with hostility.

In the arduous pursuit of that amorphous more perfect union, change and discomfort became correlatives. It is impossible to have one without the other.

The discomfort created caused the legislature to move the state to a time that predated cell phones, while the city of Charlotte is moving forward.

In such epic pursuits, rarely does the status quo emerge as the ultimate victor.

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