ELLIOT: The North Carolina economy and the bathroom debacle

The most recent headlines on the anniversary of H.B. 2 center on the economic damage to North Carolina. H.B. 2 supporters like to paint a drop-in-the-bucket theory of the damage, while opponents say that the harm is far worse.
The latest on the economy in general is not helping opponents of the law. North Carolina’s economy is doing great by almost any measure, and the future looks even better. Monday, N.C. State University economist Michael Walden released his latest look-ahead for the state economy. Using his quantitative mix of leading indicators, Walden’s index is up 1.7 percent, far exceeding the national outlook and showing improvement across all indicators, led by building permits and manufacturing hours.
Walden said the manifest optimism in the index was likely a result of population growth and “a general acceleration in the state’s economy during the past two years. “If these trends hold,” Walden concludes, “then 2017 may shape up to be the best post-recessionary growth year for North Carolina.”
Opponents of H.B. 2 are left with the mantra that the economy is doing fine, but it could always be better. Along with sporting events and rock concerts, the economic aspects of the issue are important because the boycott was a way to bring the issue to everyone’s attention. In truth, the H.B. 2 law only directly affects a tiny percentage of the population — transgender persons who have not (or cannot) change the sex denominator on their drivers’ licenses.
But should the economic argument trump all? Lt. Gov. Dan Forest doesn’t think so. What price, Forest asks, shall we put on the safety of our daughters, sisters, and wives? Forest has a point here.
For instance, lowering the age to buy liquor to 16 would undoubtedly boost sales of hard spirits and tax revenue to the state. So why don’t we do it? The answer is obvious. As in the case of access to locker rooms and group showers, there is a balance we must strike between economic considerations and protecting vulnerable citizens. Forest would probably weigh the situation differently than others, but at least he’s willing to admit that it’s a balance.
Gov. Roy Cooper, on the other hand, would have us believe that overriding the Charlotte ordinance was all pain for no gain. That’s because the left has tried to mischaracterize their opponents’ true position on bathroom safety. With the help of the news media, they have twisted the genuine fears that many people have about predators using Charlotte-type, all-access laws to harm the vulnerable. Instead, they create a rhetorical straw man, pretending their opponents are fearful of bathroom access for legitimate transgender persons.
There are several similar side arguments. One is that it is impossible to check everyone’s anatomy before they go to the bathroom, so why pass a law based on sex? Well, we can’t possibly check everyone’s ID before they get behind the wheel, so why require a driver’s license? We can’t possibly be privy to everyone’s conversations, so why have insider trading laws? Come on.
Another argument is that we “already have laws on the books” that make bathrooms safe. Several of the laws cited in this argument — trespassing, stalking, and sex offender restrictions — require prior knowledge that a person is bad. That’s not very comforting. Another one, indecent exposure, requires a person to expose his own private parts, not look at other people’s. That leaves secret peeping. As the name clearly implies, the peeping must be secret — as in, without the victim’s knowledge. Good luck trying to get a conviction under the secret peeping law for one person looking at another in a group shower facility.
H.B. 2 opponents are afraid to admit that there is a balance of interests at work. That’s getting tougher, as even Democrats are starting to tire of the stale rhetoric and break ranks. Sen. Joel Ford, a Democrat from Charlotte, is now going up against those in his own party — including Cooper — for name calling and putting the LGBT agenda ahead of everything else.
“I am tired of being slandered… as anti-LGBT and homophobic,” Ford said in a media statement two weeks ago. “I have worked to find solutions that are realistic and impactful but some people do not see it that way.”
If liberals can’t maintain the straw man argument of you’re-with-us-or-you’re-a-bigot, they are left making the case that the red-hot economy of the state could be white-hot if not for the law. That’s not a great position on which to take a no-compromise stand, but it may be all they have left.
Drew Elliot is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.