Wrong Focus

North Carolina’s enactment of an anti-anti discrimination law is a travesty of justice.

The law — called the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act — “requires transgender people (and everyone else) to use public restrooms according to the biological sex on their birth certificate,” while banning local governments from passing their own more progressive regulations, reports Mother Jones. It guts the state’s anti discrimination law by taking away most workers’ “ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law,” he magazine reports.

Other states have been moving on similar legislation, despite overwhelming opposition from progressives and the business community.

The impact on the LGBT community is awful, of course, but the legislation — and similar bills in Mississippi and elsewhere — is symptomatic of our own myopic focus on national politics and the presidency to the exclusion of what happens at the local and state levels.

The presidency has become the only office that matters, from a media standpoint, which in turn drives all other electoral considerations from the minds of voters (see turnout during non-presidential years. This has been exacerbated by what is now a four-year spectacle, sucking the oxygen from the metaphorical room.

The problem is that local and state races and referendums are just as important as the top of the ticket — as the North Carolina anti-LGBT law shows. North Carolina is a conservative state, but one that’s been in play for both sides in recent years. It is home to the liberal city of Charlotte, several major universities, and the research triangle — which should be enough to balance the influence of the state’s social conservatives.

I’m not saying that there are enough liberals in the Tar Heel State to push it in a more progressive direction, but the small turnout numbers that plague races in non-presidential years and the near-obsessive focus on presidential politics by liberals only empower conservatives.

So, in states across the South, we’ve witnessed passage of anti-LGBT legislation and rollbacks of abortion and workers’ rights. But not all examples are negative. In cities and states controlled by Democrats, we are seeing an array legislation designed to improve the quality of life for low-wage workers.

— Paid-sick and family leave is law in dozens of localities — with movements pushing to enact statewide rules in New Jersey and elsewhere.

— San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington DC and New York, and now the states of New York and California, are phasing in $15-an-hour minimum wages, and other sites are considering legislation, referenda or constitutional amendments to follow suit.

— dozens of cities, large and small, have passed anti-wage-theft laws that make it easier for workers to recoup wages from unscrupulous employers.

— voters in Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana use.

And this doesn’t take into account the role that local and state elected officials play is managing federal programs like Medicaid, food stamps, in distributing highway money, funding colleges, etc., and the role they play in drawing voting districts for state legislatures and Congress.

This is only a partial list, but it could be much longer were Americans to take local elections more seriously.

My point is not to dismiss the presidential race — the Supreme Court is very much in play — but state and local elections are just as important. We need to know as much about the men and women running for mayor, city council, governor and state legislature as we do about the men and women running for president and Congress. We have to be more aware of redistricting. We need to pay attention to what happens in the state capitals.

These things rarely make the news — even the local news — but they matter.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email; blog; Twitter @newspoet41 and @kaletjournalism; Instagram kaletwrites,

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2016

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