Last week was a bad press week for the Republican legislature in North Carolina. They made the state a national laughingstock when two legislators introduced a bill, supported by Republican Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, that claimed North Carolina was exempt from the first amendment. Another series of bills introduced by Tea Party zealots claims that state laws take precedent over federal ones, an argument that was decided in a very bloody way 150 years ago. Finally, a raft of bills designed to disenfranchise various segments of the population shocked political observers for their brazen attempt to deny people the right to vote.
While this could be a blip on the radar screen, the national opinion of North Carolina is shifting from that of an enlightened state with a healthy business climate and high quality of life to that of a backwater led by narrow-minded, mean-spirited clowns. As the political columnist for Esquire asked, “Does every member of the Republican majority in your legislature all arrive at work every morning in the same tiny car?”
While all of this nonsense provided fodder for bloggers, pundits and comedians, it’s bad for business in North Carolina. To put it in marketing terms, the GOP has tarnished our brand. Gov. Pat McCrory and company claim they want to send a signal that North Carolina is open for business. The legislature, however, wants to add the caveat, “We’re open for business, as long as you are white, straight and Christian and don’t want to send your kids to state universities.”
McCrory and Speaker Thom Tillis need to reign in their wing-nuts and realize that businesses want a lot more than just lower taxes and less regulation. Under Democrats, we became one of the fastest growing states in the nation, competing with Boston and Silicon Valley for high-tech, high paying jobs. Those businesses came here and started here because of our investments in education and research, a highly skilled workforce and a high quality of life. They are not going to come if they believe their employees will face discrimination, poor schools and religious intolerance–and that’s the perception the legislature is giving the nation.