Time and time again we see legislators - almost always Republicans - using the culture was to turn out the spittle flecked, knuckle dragging elements of their party's base on election day. Other times, the approach may be to avoid primary challenges by the truly unhinged by embracing one of the three pillars of "family values" organizations: gay bashing, anti-abortion efforts, racism and disenfranchising non-white voters. In nearby Gloucester County, Virginia, we see anti-transgender bigotry playing out and litigation costs soaring simply because school board members lack the spines to stand up to the always hate-filled "godly folk." As a piece in the Washington Post notes, the costs of such sleazy behavior is sky rocketing. Here are excerpts:
The culture wars are getting very, very expensive.
Once upon a time, politicians could use wedge issues to score cheap political points, emphasis on “cheap.” Put a gay rights issue on the ballot, or pass an antiabortion bill, and you could turn out the base at bargain-basement prices.
Even better, with minimal risk to the public fisc, you might be able to distract voters from other, thornier problems.
Facing a public education crisis? Take a page from North Carolina, and pass a law regulating where and when people can pee.
Is your state so broke it’s shaving days off the school year? Copy Kansas, and implement some draconian antiabortion legislation.
Have the highest uninsured population of any state? Look to Texas, and pass even more draconian antiabortion legislation.
Are your constituents unhappy with declining economic opportunities? Check out Indiana, Arkansas and Georgia, among others, and introduce legislation to make it easier to discriminate against gay men and lesbians.
Has your state’s credit been downgraded nine times? Is your governor facing a sex scandal? Have you become the nation’s tragicomic punchline?
Find role models in New Jersey, Alabama and Florida, respectively, and join the crusade against Planned Parenthood.
It all sounds relatively inexpensive. Lately, though, the ammo required in these culture wars has proved costlier than politicians, or their constituents, may have counted on.
In North Carolina, legislators last week voted to transfer $500,000 from the state’s emergency response and disaster relief fund to pay for litigation of the so-called bathroom bill. Good thing there are never any hurricanes in the Tar Heel State, and there’s no chance of a Zika crisis in its mosquito-dense coastal tourism areas.
Legal fees are likewise mounting in states that have attempted to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds (which often turns out to violate federal Medicaid law), to implement constitutionally dicey restrictions on abortion access, or both.
And of course in some cases, such legal expenses are peanuts compared with the broader economic costs of these culture-war laws.
After North Carolina passed its so-called bathroom bill, high-profile musicians such as Bruce Springsteen canceled concerts, companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank withdrew plans to expand in the state, and events and trade shows were called off .
politicians ought to be transparent about what they’re sticking taxpayers with when they choose to wage such culture wars.
Economic impact estimates are often more art than science, but minimum litigation costs at least are easier to estimate. Particularly when a state is considering a policy that has already come under serious legal challenge elsewhere. And especially when a state is considering a measure that courts have already repeatedly struck down, as with attempts to drug-test welfare recipients, or to bar patients from seeing the qualified and willing Medicaid provider of their choice if that provider is Planned Parenthood.
So here’s an idea: Any time legislators pass a law already facing a major legal challenge in another state, they should have to set aside funding for its defense. It’s time to remind voters that in the constitutionally fraught culture wars — as in everything else — there’s no such thing as a free lunch.