Anyone familiar with the trajectory of North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill” (a.k.a. HB 2) would wonder why lawmakers in any other state would willingly move in that direction. Its passage did, after all, expose the Tar Heel State to ridicule, litigation, and business boycotts. It was thought to contribute significantly to the reelection defeat of a Republican governor. And it continues to haunt North Carolina, thanks to the difficulty the Republican state legislature and the new Democratic governor had in finding a formula for repealing it.
So why is Texas considering a very similar bill as part of the agenda for a special legislative session?
The driving force is wild-man social conservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. Rejecting compromises offered by House Speaker Joe Straus, Patrick is insisting on an HB 2 clone that requires use of the bathrooms in public facilities comporting with one’s birth-certificate gender, and also preempts local ordinances designed to protect transgender rights. The legislation was deadlocked at the end of Texas’s regular legislative session in May, but it’s popped back up in a special session called by Governor Gregg Abbott to deal with an assortment of issues — including resolution of the impasse over the “bathroom bill.”
Abbott stayed largely in the background during the Straus-Patrick battle of the bathroom bills. But his political interests may be what’s keeping Patrick’s side of the argument alive despite the obvious risk to Texas’s image and business interests. According to John Daniel Davidson, writing for National Review, what’s really going on is that Abbott is worried about a nascent 2018 Patrick primary challenge:
The 20 items on Abbott’s list for the special session represent policy changes that reform-minded conservatives wanted to see happen in the regular session but didn’t get because there was no leadership from Abbott and Patrick’s bathroom bill sucked all the air out of the room….
Abbott told a conservative policy forum last week he would publicize a list of state lawmakers who support and oppose his agenda. It was meant to be a show of strength, but it belied weakness: Abbott’s threat was directed at Straus’s moderate Republicans, who he fears will not deliver on Patrick’s bathroom bill. That would in turn stall Abbott’s other reforms and leave no doubt about who’s really in charge of Texas: Patrick.
So, Abbott wants to get credit for passing a bathroom bill along with other conservative legislation, and he may not get the latter without the former. If that means risking national ridicule and maybe a round of convention, sports, and other boycotts — well, that’s just the price to be paid for “conservative leadership” these days, it seems.
The editors of the Raleigh News & Observer offered this sardonic comment:
In this age of Republicans driven by the hard-right, or whatever it is, ideology of the “base” that elected Donald Trump, the Texas debate proves that anything (crazy) is absolutely possible. What’s astonishing is that Texas lawmakers had a perfectly clear view of the economic catastrophe that came to North Carolina after HB2 — tens of millions of dollars lost, including $100 million economic impact for Charlotte with loss of the NBA All-Star Game, and thousands of jobs gone, with companies deciding against establishing offices or expanding the ones they had.
It’s as if, pardon the Texas-sized metaphor, Texas lawmakers stood and watched North Carolina Republicans run full-face forward into a cactus, and then turned to one another and said, “Hey, that looks like fun.”
For Gregg Abbott, it might indeed be more “fun” than an expensive and perilous 2018 primary challenge. As the final collision involving the Texas “bathroom bill” approaches, Abbott is looking strictly to his right.