Let’s all take a deep breath here

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— You can have your Coke with a smile today.

On Mon­day, Ge­or­gia Gov. Nathan Deal, a con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can, said he would veto a bill that would have le­gal­ized dis­crim­i­na­tion against gay peo­ple, re­spond­ing to an out­cry from cor­po­rate in­ter­ests in­clud­ing Coca-Cola, Home De­pot, UPS, Walt Dis­ney, Delta, Time Warner, Com­cast, Net­flix, Ap­ple and the Na­tional Football League. As state leg­is­la­tors pushed the “re­li­gious lib­erty” bill through, Deal told them: “I hope that we can all just take a deep breath, rec­og­nize that the world is chang­ing around us.”

Head­lines of the past week show seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory de­vel­op­ments: Even as Ge­or­gia’s gover­nor took a bold stand against dis­crim­i­na­tion, North Carolina’s Repub­li­can gover­nor last Wed­nes­day signed into law sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion en­shrin­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der res­i­dents.

But there is re­ally no con­tra­dic­tion: Ge­or­gia’s gover­nor ve­toed the bill be­cause it re­ceived mas­sive pub­lic ex­po­sure and there was a re­sult­ing out­cry from cor­po­ra­tions con­cerned that it would of­fend cus­tomers and work­ers. North Carolina’s gover­nor signed the bill lit­er­ally in the dark of night, just be­fore the Easter holiday week­end, af­ter leg­is­la­tors in­tro­duced and passed it in a sin­gle day at a hastily con­vened spe­cial ses­sion — es­sen­tially slip­ping it into law be­fore it could get at­ten­tion and busi­ness in­ter­ests could state their ob­jec­tions.

In both cases, you can see the ef­fects of a new cor­po­rate cit­i­zen­ship that is emerg­ing. Cor­po­rate Amer­ica is tra­di­tion­ally con­ser­va­tive, re­luc­tant to re­act to so­cial con­tro­versy and di­vi­sive is­sues. But as pub­lic sen­ti­ment shifts dra­mat­i­cally on gay rights and as pro-equal­ity mil­len­ni­als be­come a large bloc of con­sumers, busi­ness is shed­ding its ret­i­cence. This has hap­pened, to a lesser ex­tent, on im­mi­gra­tion, var­i­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and, re­cently, in sup­port of Ap­ple’s stand for con­sumer pri­vacy.

Democrats and pro­gres­sives see po­ten­tial for a larger shift na­tion­ally in cor­po­rate po­lit­i­cal be­hav­ior, as Repub­li­cans take ide­o­log­i­cal stands on ed­u­ca­tion, the Ex­port-Im­port Bank, the debt ceil­ing and in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing that put them at odds with their tra­di­tional cor­po­rate al­lies. “They’re just not of­fer­ing com­pa­nies what they crave most out of Wash­ing­ton, which is pre­dictabil­ity,” said Matt Ben­nett of Third Way, a busi­ness-friendly Demo­cratic group. Repub­li­cans “are just these wild cards now,” he said, and will be­come more so if Don­ald Trump — who talks of 45 per­cent tar­iffs — be­comes their nom­i­nee.

Though it’s not clear whether that


broader shift to the left will oc­cur among cor­po­ra­tions, there is no doubt that a dra­matic change has oc­curred on gay rights. When the Ge­or­gia Leg­is­la­ture took up leg­is­la­tion giv­ing re­li­gious groups the right to deny ser­vices to gay peo­ple, cor­po­ra­tions by the dozen voiced their ob­jec­tions. Dis­ney and Net­flix said they would stop film­ing in Ge­or­gia, and the NFL said the bill would jeop­ar­dize At­lanta’s hopes of host­ing the Su­per Bowl.

Deal said he wouldn’t “re­spond well” to “threats of with­draw­ing jobs from our state,” but re­spond he did. On Mon­day, he said the re­li­gious com­mu­nity’s re­quest for gov­ern­ment pro­tec­tion is “ironic,” be­cause if “in­deed our re­li­gious lib­erty is con­ferred by God and not by man-made gov­ern­ment, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ ad­mo­ni­tion of the First Amend­ment.”

In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory and state Repub­li­cans tried to avoid the trou­ble Deal faced, and the sim­i­lar trou­ble In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence faced in 2014.

North Carolina’s bill, passed and signed within 12 hours of its in­tro­duc­tion, in­val­i­dates mu­nic­i­pal nondis­crim­i­na­tion or­di­nances, in­clud­ing a Char­lotte city or­di­nance cov­er­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple’s use of re­strooms. Law­mak­ers also passed a statewide nondis­crim­i­na­tion pol­icy that omits pro­tec­tion for sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

Amer­i­can Air­lines, Ap­ple, Dow Chem­i­cal, PayPal and oth­ers rushed to crit­i­cize the new law. The Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion sug­gested it might move its 2017 All-Star Game from Char­lotte.

On Tues­day, more than 80 top ex­ec­u­tives from blue-chip com­pa­nies signed a let­ter to McCrory say­ing the leg­is­la­tion is “bad for our em­ploy­ees and bad for busi­ness” and will “make it far more chal­leng­ing for busi­nesses across the state to re­cruit” and will “di­min­ish the state’s draw as a des­ti­na­tion for tourism, new busi­nesses and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.”

McCrory, pep­pered dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Mon­day about all the mu­nic­i­pal or­di­nances the new law would over­turn, com­plained that the re­porters were “blind­sid­ing” him.

If he didn’t want to be blind­sided by his own law’s ef­fects, he could have spent more than one day on it. But McCrory, un­like the term-lim­ited Deal, is up for re-elec­tion and likely hopes the is­sue will rally his con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers.

Now North Carolina will face the eco­nomic con­se­quences of his poor choice. McCrory should have done what Ge­or­gia’s Deal pro­posed: take a deep breath, and rec­og­nize that the world is chang­ing.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@ wash­post.com.

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