Bargaining away a fundamental freedom

By: - July 29, 2011 6:35 am

State Senator sells out his daughters in a backroom deal

The North Carolina state Senate joined the House in overriding Governor Perdue’s veto of the scandalously misnamed “Woman’s Right to Know Act” yesterday. Under the new state law which is scheduled to go into effect this October (and which would be more accurately referred to as the “North Carolina Rapists Relief Act”) North Carolina women will be required to endure a scripted ultrasound examination, a waiting period and undergo what amounts to an anti-abortion lecture written by conservative lawmakers before they exercise their constitutional right to an abortion. Rapists and perpetrators of child incest are empowered under the law to bring suit to help enforce the law’s requirements.

Back when the bill passed the Senate by a 29-20 margin in June, Republican senator Stan Bingham of Davidson County was the only member of his party to vote “no.” (Another Republican, Richard Stevens of Wake County, was absent).

Here is the extremely rational statement Bingham made at the time, as reported by Mark Binker of the Greensboro News-Record:

“I’ve got four daughters and I have never imposed on them. They are bright, smart young women and I trust the decisions they make. I’ve got one’s a doctor, one’s a lawyer and two engineers,” Bingham said, adding that he raised his daughters to think for themselves.

He said that Senators who were doctors spoke against the bill and swayed him. But, he said, it was mainly thinking about the women in his life that caused him to side against the bill.

“I leave it up to them to make decisions about their own bodies,” Bingham said. “It’s just like if I were going to be castrated, I wouldn’t want them to make that decision for me.”

Override switcheroo

The requirement to override a veto, of course, is three-fifths. Assuming everything else remained the same, one or more of a couple possible things had to happen in order for the veto in this matter to be overridden

Possibility #1 was that Senator Stevens would show up and vote for an override. Once again, however, he was conveniently absent.

Possibility #2 was that Senator Bingham would change his vote. But given his previous statement and action, how could he possibly do that?

In light of these two hard facts, it might have seemed that supporters of the bill were over a barrel. They just didn’t have the votes, right?

Not so fast my friend.

It turns out that Senate Republicans had an alternative plan: convince Bingham not to vote at all – to “take a walk,” as the lawmakers sometimes say. This would make the vote 29-19 – just enough to make the 3/5 requirement.

And that’s just what happened. Bingham came to the Legislative Building Thursday morning, sat in his seat and then went to a hastily convened Republican caucus.

When he came out, he was high-tailing it for the door.

Mark Binker reported Bingham’s great skedaddle this way:

“I can’t vote for that bill, that’s all there is too it,” Bingham said.

Asked if he knew his absence would all for the override to happen, Bingham said that he did.

“Yes, I know. I know the circumstances. This is very difficult for me,” Bingham said.

However, he said the Senate Republican caucus made this abortion vote a “caucus issue,” a vote where members would face sanctions if they voted out of line with other Republicans. Such sanctions could range from everything from being tossed out of the caucus or losing committee chairmanship to facing party-sponsored opposition in a primary.

“This is the first time in my history in politics I’ve been asked to do this and have done it,” Bingham said.

To which, any sane person would have to offer the following responses:

#1: Say what?! What the heck is the man thinking? What possible difference does not voting make when it has precisely the same effect as switching sides? The bottom line is the same: in either case, Bingham’s change would decide the issue. Senator Bingham is now directly responsible for the passage of this new and horrible law. Can anyone really be so simple and shallow as to think that he can absolve himself from responsibility for such a noxious result just because he ran away and hid at crunch time?

#2: Why?! What could the Republicans have possibly threatened Bingham with that would evoke such an about face? A primary opponent? Physical harm?

Bingham is a generally moderate, soft-spoken, 65 year-old lumber company owner. He has long been recognized as a maverick who frequently voted from Democratic proposals – including multiple state budgets. He had and has no realistic prospects to gain significant power in the ultra-conservative Republican caucus. He’s come as far as he’s going to in the state Senate, where, despite having served six terms, he isn’t even trusted by his colleagues to chair a committee on his own. In short, there’s nothing they could do to him of consequence.

Ah, “but that’s politics,” you say. Sometimes people have to do hard things in order to get other things they want.

To which, all a body can say is: “Really?!” What could Bingham have possibly “gotten” in return for such an act? What could possibly make it worth it for a man who publicly admits he knows better, to subject his daughters and granddaughters to a law so over-the-top Orwellian that it has to include a provision like the following?

“Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent a pregnant woman from averting her eyes from the displayed images or from refusing to hear the simultaneous explanation and medical description.”

What could Bingham have gotten that would make him facilitate the passage of a law so disgraceful that it specifically empowers “any father of an unborn child” (including a rape or incest perpetrator) to sue the abortion provider for not following the official government script?

It’s hard to imagine what it could have been. What’s the price for selling out your fundamental principles (not to mention the freedom and well-being of millions of women)?

Too harsh?

Some would say that this attack on Bingham is too harsh. After all, weren’t there 29 other senators and 72 Representatives who voted for this noxious bill?

Yes, there were. And several clearly did so despite knowing better. Like Bingham, they sold out and traded women’s freedom for political gain. In the House, a handful of Democrats also voted for this dreadful legislation. Rep. Jim Crawford even switched his vote from “no” to “aye.” Senator Stevens has yet to explain his “no show” performances.

Unfortunately for Bingham, however, all of his colleagues were cagey enough never to admit pro-choice beliefs in public. They never mislead people by making strong public statements that the bill was wrong.

That’s one of the tough realities of politics: Your words and actions have consequences. No one expects much of reactionary nincompoops, but when people who know better sell out, the damage that results is likely to be their legacy.

Stan Bingham is about to learn this lesson.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast.