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Opinion: West Virginia’s choice, jobs or discrimination

By Rob Byers

The Charleston Gazette-Mail

Delegate Michel Moffatt got red in the face, his voice rose and he stabbed the air with his pen.

A minute before, he had been calmly explaining to our group of Gazette-Mail editors why he thought the failed “religious freedom” bill that dominated so much of the Legislature’s time last session was a good bill and one he wouldn’t mind bringing up again.

But then I mentioned PayPal and its decision to back out of North Carolina because of that state’s version of the discriminatory law, and the Putnam County Republican was off to the races.

Moffatt said he would not welcome PayPal and its 400 jobs into West Virginia, calling the company “hypocritical” because “they’re operating in 25 countries that persecute gays, that hang them in the streets. Yet they’re pulling out of North Carolina? Shame on them.”

Next, he started in on Bruce Springsteen, who decided to cancel his concert in North Carolina because of the law. Moffatt said Springsteen was the one who was doing the discriminating, by refusing to play for all those hard-working Tar Heels.

For the record, criticizing The Boss in my presence is never going to help win me over in an argument. But neither is pushing unnecessary legislation that’s really just a ham-fisted attempt at legitimizing homophobia.

It’s sad that we’re still talking about this bill during the meetings we’re having with candidates running in the upcoming primary election. But this meeting in particular, with incumbent Moffatt and three other Republicans running in the 13th and 22nd delegate districts, showed that it’s still in play.

Each candidate said they supported the bill originally and wouldn’t mind bringing it back for another round … that is, another round of contentious, ugly legislative debate that embarrasses the state on the national stage and wastes precious time to deal with our actual problems, of which there are many. And not one of them involves the struggles of being a Christian in 2016 America.

Then again, Sen. Mitch Carmichael is having a bit of a struggle these days, thanks to his display of Christian values on the Senate floor in March. Through tears, the Jackson County Republican spoke in favor of an amendment to the bill that would block it from being used to discriminate against the LGBT community.

“I believe in the goodness of people,” he said. “I want the poor to be rich and the weak to be strong, and when we build walls, we diminish that.”

For the sin of being human, Carmichael is under fire from the hard-line conservative segment of his party. This includes his primary opponent, who is hauling out the silly scare tactic du jour — the transgender-guy-in-the-bathroom-with-your-daughter thing.

A tweet published on Tuesday from the Twitter account of Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, calls Carmichael a “tax & spend RINO that cries crocodile tears on Senate floor & is an Economic buffoon.”

Nice, huh? Hate in 140 characters or less.

During Carmichael’s pre-election meeting with Gazette-Mail editors, he noted that it would be hypocritical for a legislature that repeatedly talks about attracting jobs to pass a law that has been proven to be a job killer.

Other than PayPal CEO Dan Schulman’s bold move to scrap plans to build its new global operations center in Charlotte, the heads of numerous companies have spoken out against “religious freedom” laws. The loss of convention revenue in Indiana, linked directly to its version of the law, has been well documented.

On a brighter note, the two Republican House candidates from the 36th district who met with us on Wednesday each said they would not support bringing the bill up again. They cited discrimination and potential job loss as deterrents.

So, what will it be, West Virginia? Will our seemingly never-ending obsession with God, guns and gays finally wane in the face of a dwindling state budget? Will we stand up to the market forces changing our way of life and remake our economic landscape?

I can’t venture a guess to those questions, but I do know one thing: Voting matters.

— Rob Byers is co-editor of the Gazette-Mail.

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