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Why the interstate travel bans are bad for everyone

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In early September, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra banned state-funded or sponsored travel to the state of Iowa. The reason given was a recent state Supreme Court decision banning the use of Medicaid funds for certain transgender surgical procedures. Left-wing activists often demand the blacklisting of states that pass conservative legislation, and California has gone all-in. It even passed a law in 2016 allowing Golden Staters to impose travel bans on states with insufficiently “woke” laws on the books.

Iowa’s sin was similar to that of other states on California’s naughty list. Those include Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. Readers with a keen eye will recognize that there is a common theme of banning taxpayer-funded travel to decidedly red states.

In each case, these states had passed laws and pursued policies that California officials considered oppressive to gay, lesbian, or transgender communities. The last category on that list seems to have aroused the most vocal opposition. This is amply demonstrated by California’s inclusion of North Carolina because of its “bathroom bill,” forbidding boys who identify as girls from using girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers in public schools.

California is leading the charge but it isn’t alone in this effort. Far from it. Several blue states have enacted similar measures. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Orders 155 and 156 in 2016, barring state-supported travel to North Carolina and Mississippi, with more states added to the naughty list later.

Minnesota, Vermont, Connecticut, and Washington state jumped on the bandwagon. Each cited laws purportedly limiting the rights of gays, lesbians, and transgender people as the rationale for these decisions. The list of banned states is nearly identical in each case, although Texas is on some lists but not on others.

The case of Texas isn’t the only thing that suggests randomness. The bans — the worst sort of gesture politics — are also selectively enforced. California, for example, frequently allows waivers for collegiate athletic teams to travel to “naughty” states for high-profile sporting events. Apparently, equal rights for sexual minorities mustn’t stand in the way of another NCAA title that can open the sluice gates of alumni donations to the school endowments.

Cuomo’s New York has at least been consistent, to the detriment of student athletes. In March, New York forbade four collegiate swimmers from state-funded travel to North Carolina for a national match, citing the “bathroom bills.” The athletes were allowed to travel only as far as North Carolina’s northern neighbor, Virginia, and stay in hotels there. It resulted in a commute of more than an hour each way, cutting into practice time and preparation for the matches. Naturally, neither the students nor their parents were pleased.

With such practical effects, the travel bans cannot be regarded as purely symbolic. One recent study indicated that companies and sports organizations have been taking such bans into consideration when planning major public events. This hits the bottom line of banned states, cutting off business not merely from states leveling the bans.

“Louisville, Kentucky, for example, is seeing the effects of a California travel ban over a new state law that critics say would allow members of school clubs to, based on their religious beliefs, exclude LGBT students,” reported Pew in 2017. “In response to the California ban, two Chicago groups, the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement and the Association of University Radiologists, canceled Louisville events, costing the city some $2 million.”

Bacerra refuses to make exceptions for “tolerant” cities in red states: “Nashville, another left-leaning city in a conservative state, had a similar experience,” says Pew. “California banned state travel to Tennessee to protest a state law allowing mental health counselors and therapists to refuse to treat patients based on religious objections or personal beliefs. Critics of the law say it could result in discrimination against LGBT people. In response, the American Counseling Association canceled a meeting in Nashville it estimated would bring in more than 3,000 visitors and more than $4 million in tax revenue.”

This seems a rather one-sided culture war. We’re not seeing a corresponding response from redder states that might equally complain about policies in liberal-leaning states. California, New York, and other left-wing enclaves have passed sanctuary city laws and state policies that bind the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials pursuing criminal illegal aliens. This arguably endangers the lives of legal citizens, as has been seen far too often in the case of the Angel Families, a national organization of those who have lost relatives to illegal immigrant violence.

But where are the parallel travel bans from red states to New York, California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, and other states putting such measures on the books? This is a fundamental difference between conservative states and Democratic strongholds. Democrats seek to wield the power to enact change in the name of social justice. The opposition, primarily conservatives, look to win the debate by argument rather than by economic force. As in so many areas, conservatives simply appear to be more tolerant than their left-wing counterparts of views with which they disagree.

This may not last forever. If bans work for the Left, the Right may eventually adopt similar strategies. And it might not be limited to immigration enforcement issues. Some counties and townships have taken to enacting their own “sanctuary” policies on guns in states where gun control laws are seen as too restrictive. What happens if red states begin imposing travel bans to places where citizens are deprived of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms?

It’s not hyperbolic to ask whether we are plodding toward a kind of economic cold war between blue and red states. Those who don’t get the national leaders they want may press businesses, schools, and other institutions to direct funds only to those in a favored class in each state. The result, as we’re already seeing, will be significant economic damage on both sides.

Perhaps it’s time to consider reviving the long-maligned commerce clause of the Constitution. Sadly, Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 has become rather a joke over the past 130 years, largely because of the fluid nature of interactions between the states and because of court-supported expansions of federal power. But Congress retains the power to regulate commerce between states.

During the Marshall Court era, the Supreme Court recognized that the free flow of commerce was integral to a successful nation. These injunctions and boycotts based on political ideology fly in the face of free commerce. They intentionally produce economic harm to states perceived as being insufficiently woke.

Laws banning travel to states with laws disliked by the leaders of other states are a form of economic warfare, and Congress has the power to step in and put an end to it. The time to do so is now, not after red states retaliate and the fight spirals out of control.

Jazz Shaw is the weekend editor at Hot Air. Find him on Twitter @jazzshaw.

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