Bob Bestler

Feeling blue about antics of Tar Heel state

There was a time I was downright proud of my once-adopted state of North Carolina.

I worked at the Charlotte Observer during the 1970s and watched a succession of fairly progressive governors rise to leadership.

From Republicans Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin (who I got to know when he was a Mecklenburg County commissioner) to Democrats Jim Hunt and Mike Easely, North Carolina voters seemed much more in tune with history than, well, those in South Carolina.

My wife is a native Tar Heel and we both compared North Carolina favorably to South Carolina, which seemed stuck in the past in so many ways — the old Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond being just one.

Indeed, North Carolina has always had much to boast about, from the innovative Research Triangle to its great universities — Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, and Wake Forest, among others.

But times, they are a changing.

In recent years North Carolina, buoyed by an ultra-conservative legislature and, now, a conservative governor, has been taking several steps backward, from its repressive voter ID law to its recent statewide ban on anti-discrimination laws that protect gender identity — the so-called transgender bathroom bill.

The new law, passed after just a few hours of consideration, was designed to thwart Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which had been scheduled to take effect April 1.

It was quickly signed by Gov. Pat McCrory and so far the main effect has been a tremendous blow to the state and its citizens.

Concerts have been pulled, conventions have been moved and at least one national company has canceled plans for a headquarters in North Carolina. Some estimates have put the economic losses so far at about $30 million.

Contrast McCrory’s actions — calling the first special session in 35 years to rush through a discriminatory law — against the position taken by S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.

“While other states are having this battle, this is not a battle that we have seen as needed in South Carolina,” she said a couple of weeks ago. “South Carolina is doing really well when it comes to respect, when it comes to kindness and when it comes to acceptance.”

I didn't vote for her, but I’ve been a closet Haley fan since she teared up over the Mother Emanuel shootings, then called, finally and successfully, for the removal of the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds.

I watched as she supported the fight against offshore drilling in the Atlantic — at the same time McCrory was saying “drill, baby, drill.”

The other day she appeared at Manning Correctional Institute in Columbia to showcase a program to help S.C. prisoners transition back into civilian life, helping with education and job training and job searches. Pretty progressive ideas, I’d say.

It’s not just Haley. South Carolina’s two senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, have demonstrated a rare common sense in a Congress that often seems to veer off course. Graham’s sharp wit has put South Carolina in a good light nationally.

Is it any wonder we are now seeing a new comparison of the two states? Try this one offered by the blog N.C. Policy Watch:

“It’s a sad commentary as to how far things have fallen in North Carolina over the last five years that the state continues to be taken to the cleaners by the more open and forward-thinking policies of ... South Carolina.''

Amazing, isn’t it, Tar Heels?

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