A fine little line lurks just under one of the eyes that stares out at me from the bathroom mirror each morning. It marks where a plastic surgeon did a pretty good job of patching up a pretty bad error in judgment.
After putting in more than four decades on this planet as a red-blooded, hold-my-beer-and-watch-this American male, I have more than a few scars, marks, aches and pains to remind me that being a knucklehead comes with a cost.
It’s not just teenagers with a hormone-fueled sense of invulnerability who acquire scars. When large mobs of people, or the mobs that make up our various governments, are unwilling to drag their knuckles into a new century, they can leave marks our children will live with for years.
Back in early 2016, lawmakers in Raleigh saw the city of Charlotte do something they didn’t like, got double-dogged dared by social conservatives, and put themselves and the rest of us in a scrape by passing House Bill 2 — what folks from Oregon to Osaka know as North Carolina’s bathroom bill.
“We sort of took the bait,” Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, reflected after voting for a long sought compromise that wiped away a large portion of the controversial law. Just like the kid who temps fate by seeing just how much weight that tree branch can hold, lawmakers found out it’s a lot easier to get in a fix than to get out of one.
And even if you’re inclined to put the last year of political battles in the rear view, don’t make the mistake of thinking HB2 is completely behind us. There will be scars.
Your representatives have spent a bunch of time wrangling over where people relieve themselves rather that putting that energy toward figuring out how to build more schools, pave crumbling roads, or take care of folks hampered by mental illness.
Even as House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, tried to sew up a solution, they felt the ache of HB2. Spending a year accusing each other of lying, breaking handshake deals and misleading the public made getting a law all three could own nearly impossible. Now they have to get on to the state’s other business. If top political leaders can’t trust each other to tell the truth on this one single issue, can they look each other in the eye and shake hands when $23 billion in state government spending is at stake?
The Associated Press pegged the economic price tag of HB2 at $3.76 billion, a figure opponents of the bill said was a low-ball estimate and backers pointed out would only be a small drop in the bucket in terms of North Carolina’s overall economy. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest tried to convince lawmakers to abandon the compromise deal by outlining all the ways North Carolina business is humming along, from increased hotel bookings to a growing number of jobs.
“What would growth be if you got rid of the daggum thing? How many more jobs would there be?” Mac Holladay, an Atlanta economic development consultant, asked me earlier this month.
The fact that unemployment is down overall doesn’t mean spit to people who couldn’t find a job because the economy wasn’t quite good enough.
“What hurts more is I have to stand before you all begging please give me respect,” Candis Cox told the Senate Rules Committee as they pondered the compromise. The transgender woman and those in her community will surely be scarred by a year of having people talk about them and what they are rather than speaking to them and finding out who they are.
It’s not all bad news, though.
With any wound, pain and blood eventually give way to lessons learned. Yes, HB2 will leave a mark, real people — your friends and neighbors as well as some very nice folks you’ve never had the chance to meet — will feel its emotional and economic impact for a while. But maybe the next time North Carolina thinks about going out on a rickety tree limb, those scars will remind us of the past year and prod us to think more carefully.
Mark Binker is editor of the NC Insider State Government News Service.