Transgender Athletes & Profiles in Courage

To my knowledge nobody is out there working on a new volume of Profiles in Courage replete with fresh new examples.

But last week did bring us a couple candidates, and so let’s acknowledge them here. Governors Spencer Cox of Utah and Eric Holcomb of Indiana each vetoed bills that would ban transgender athletes from competing in the gender category of their choice. Cox and Holcomb are Republicans in deeply red states and this is a red meat issue for the Trumpy Republican base. (Utah’s legislature later over rode Cox’s veto, making it the 12th state with such a ban.)

Now, this might not be just pure courage on the part of the governors. They both saw the potential for a backlash from corporations and professional sports organizations and the loss of tourism and convention business. But what is certainly true is that the easier course of action would have been to sign the bills. Even a pragmatic concern over a backlash is a concern for the state as a whole as opposed to a worry about your own political career. These guys just did the right thing.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox

And they did the right thing by traditional conservative measures. They, apparently, still belong to the old Republican Party, the one that was about the least government, the one that wanted to pass the fewest laws possible.

This whole transgender athlete thing is being ginned up by cynical politicians in search of an issue to motivate their base, as if there aren’t enough already. These bills are a solution in search of a problem. Cases of former boys competing in girls’ sports are extremely rare. I concede that it could be a problem, but there’s no evidence that it has been a problem, or at least one serious enough to call for state legislation.

And even if it were a real concern, it’s not one legislatures or governors should have any role in. Traditional conservatives would leave the governance of sports to the agencies set up for that purpose. Here in Wisconsin it would be the WIAA and nationally it’s the NCAA. Now, the NCAA is not an organization I revere, as it spends most of its time trying to make sure college athletes don’t get paid for their work, but this issue is the kind of thing it actually should have the last word on. State legislatures shouldn’t be making rules about sports, unless they moved to ban the designated hitter, in which case they’d be doing the Lord’s work. But I digress.

I’ve used this space a number of times to urge Democrats to duck the culture wars. As a rule, I think social change happens first outside of government and politics catches up. Also as a rule, I think Democrats lose in culture wars battles. Strategically, they’d be better off choosing to fight on different ground.

But Cox and Holcomb are Republicans who, faced with a stark choice, decided to do the politically unpopular thing among the people who can do them the most political damage. They reminded us of the best part of what the old Republican Party once was and, who knows, might be again.

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Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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