Editor's Note: Carolina Blues

A HEARTBREAKING last second loss in the college basketball national championship isn't the only bad news out of the Tarheel State recently.

It wasn’t long ago that North Carolina was considered the most progressive Deep South state. They had a government willing to fund new initiatives, a thriving film and high-tech industry, and of course a university system among the top in the nation, and certainly the envy of most Southern states.

The reputation has historic roots. The Southern state least dependent on slave labor and the plantation system, North Carolina was the last to secede from the union, and did so more reluctantly than any other.

Since Reconstruction, North Carolina has arguably been the most egalitarian Southern state, the least plagued by wide wealth disparity, and its politics have usually reflected that balance.

But there has been an extreme rightward lurch in North Carolina politics over the past few years, which is the will of the voters and therefore their choice.

North Carolina voters are now paying for that choice. Literally.

The rightward lurch has included a series of discriminatory bills against LGBT citizens, including the now-infamous HB2 or “Bathroom Bill,” which prompted Google and PayPal to reconsider any investment in the state, and several other states to forbid government employees from even traveling to North Carolina on business.

Other measures included Tea Party-inspired funding cuts which cast shadows on the generous tax incentives that spawned North Carolina’s once-thriving film industry. The unstable environment drove many productions further down the coast to South Carolina and Georgia.

Other cuts did away with cooperative college funding allowing North Carolina residents to attend some out-of-state degree programs at in-state tuition rates.

North Carolina, to put it bluntly, is a shell of its former self. They may bleed Carolina Blue up there, but these days they are hemorrhaging money as well.

Georgia, seemingly, maybe, has learned from North Carolina’s unfortunate example. What North Carolina once was, Georgia still can be.

Last week, after days of will-he-or-won’t-he speculation, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced he would veto the so-called “Religious Liberty” bill, another in the seemingly endless stream of needlessly inflammatory and thinly disguised gay-bashing bills floating around conservative state legislatures these days.

Of course, the internet being the internet, within minutes of the Republican Governor’s announcement Georgia progressives began slamming Deal for vetoing the bill for the wrong reasons, alleging he did so only because of opposition from Atlanta corporate interests who didn’t want the Super Bowl taken away. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished.

The truth is, Deal signaled his intent to veto long before the boycott threats picked up steam, and made it clear his opposition is based on his belief that the bill is discriminatory.

I differ with Deal on many issues, but in this case I really do think he will veto the Religious Liberty bill on genuine principle.

In any case, Georgia dodged a bullet that our own legislature had aimed at us. Not only was a Super Bowl bid at stake, the explosively booming Peach State film industry was the target of a threatened boycott campaign.

It was an interesting juxtaposition to read news reports of the progress of Georgia’s Religious Liberty bill between social media updates from the Tybee Island set of the Baywatch reboot.

Shot here and starring today’s most bankable movie star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, that Georgia-made film could easily earn upwards of a billion dollars when all’s said and done.

It was like a real-time public service announcement for what could happen if Georgia made the right choice, or the wrong one.

So we see an instructive lesson both on the limits of the Tea Party governing philosophy, and perhaps ironically, on the remarkable potential of the free market in making positive change when it is allied with more inclusive goals.

We also see a grim reminder that decades of hard-won progress can be destroyed by just a few shortsighted decisions.