By now, you’ve probably heard about North Carolina’s HB2 “bathroom bill” or at least the response to it.
Even if you’re not typically someone who follows North Carolina state politics (there are only so many hours in the day), it’s likely you’ve seen stories about musicians like Bruce Springsteen boycotting the state, the NBA moving its 2017 all-star game to Louisiana, a Broadway composer speaking out, or the NCAA adjusting its tournament schedule as a result of the March 2016 law.
The part of the law that’s received the most focus has to do with whether transgender people should be allowed to use bathrooms that match their gender identity (as they have been, to your knowledge or not, for pretty much forever).
The law’s proponents believe trans people should have to use bathrooms that match whatever gender is on their birth certificate a legal document that is notoriously difficult, and sometimes impossible, to update which causes a host of issues we’ve written about before.
In other words, it’s a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad law. On top of that, just 32% of the state’s voters approve of it, the cancelled events and boycotts aren’t exactly helping the state’s economy, it’s giving the governor headaches in his re-election bid, and lawmakers have had to allocate $500,000 in emergency funding for the law’s legal defense.
So, why do legislatures sometimes pass unpopular laws that don’t seem to make sense? It’s complicated (and very frustrating).
The same goes for questions about why sometimes things that are very popular don’t become law no matter how much of a slam dunk they seem. (For example, requiring background checks before purchasing a gun is supported by nearly 90% of Americans, but there’s still not been a lot of lawmaking movement on that issue.)
In a 2013 article for the National Review (later republished by The Atlantic), authors Elahe Izadi and Clare Foran explore this issue, landing on something most of us would probably rather not have to deal with: “procedural shenanigans.” That phrase, used in the article by an aide to Senator Harry Reid, sums up many of the baffling struggles that exist in the legislative process.
Let’s take a look at a real-life example of “procedural shenanigans”: our response to the Zika virus.
A real-life example would be something like what’s currently going on with Zika funding. Hopefully, we can all agree that the Zika virus is bad (it is), and that the federal government is needed to help fight it (they should). Well, currently, $1.1 billion in funding is being held up in Congress.
Who’s fault is this? Well, if you listen to Republicans, it’s the Democrats’ fault.
But if you ask Democrats, it’s the Republicans’ fault.
The truth is that this funding is being held up by things that have nothing to do with the Zika virus they’re only tangentially related to the issue. In this case, it’s a battle over whether or not we should ban the Confederate flag from flying in veterans’ cemeteries (Republicans are against this ban) or if Planned Parenthood should be blocked from receiving additional funding (Democrats are against this block).
It’s frustrating, but it happens all the time. Legislators will try to hold certain bills hostage to get something else they want. Or maybe they’ll try to tack on an amendment designed to torpedo the bill (also known as a poison pill). This is politics as usual, but it’s not right.
That’s why it’s important to hold lawmakers accountable. Whether this is about the bill in North Carolina, the holdup on the Zika funding, or anything else, we have leverage of our own.
Elected officials are meant to represent the views of their constituency. While we can write letters to our state, local, and federal representatives urging votes on clean pieces of legislation, that’s not all. We can protest, we can make our voices heard, and we can make it known that we don’t stand for a piece of legislation.
And if that doesn’t work, we can vote officials out and try again with someone new. It’s easy to feel helpless when it comes to politics, but as a voter, you’re anything but.