Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Squeezing the life out of the base

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 10:07 AM

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Several days ago, Mike Pence signed House Enrolled Act 1337. It is arguably the most restrictive bill on abortion in the nation. Those of us who pay attention to Indiana politics at all knew he was going to sign it. The news of that signature barely drew a blink of an eye from me. It was business as usual.

While researching topics for my column, my eyes opened wide. I did a Google search of "Indiana abortion law" and that is when the shame of the new law hit me in the face like a sucker punch at a Donald Trump rally.

The first four hits with stories on the topic came from NPR, Salon, Washington Post, and The New York Times. Slate, CNN and Vox also made the front page of search results. All were negative pieces, I might add. Indiana is a national disgrace again.

Among other things, the act prohibits a person from performing an abortion if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because of the fetus' race, color, national origin, ancestry or gender. It further prohibits a person from performing an abortion if the sole reason is a diagnosis or potential diagnosis that the fetus will have Down syndrome or other disability.

RELATED: A list of every legislator that voted yes to HEA 1337

This terrible new law is a political tool for legislators whose political futures are more delicate in May than in November. It also is socially conservative legislation that Pence would not ever be able to resist. But the governor's fate rests completely in November.

The legislators closely involved are concentrated in northeast Indiana. There are plenty of political battles going on up there, and all are occurring in GOP primaries. Pro-life candidates will win all of these races. That is certain.

More importantly though — and this is difficult for people who don't live there to understand — the degree of one's pro-lifeness becomes the battle. It is just like campaign ads where candidates claim to be the "true" conservative or the "most" conservative when wooing Republican primary voters. The degree of control a GOP candidate wants government to have over women's bodies is becoming its own political spectrum.

In this unfortunate circumstance, these primary races to the "right" have resulted in a regretful new law.

In Pence's situation, things are very different. His race in November will be competitive. His opponent, Democrat John Gregg, has already announced his opposition to HEA 1337. This gives voters a distinct choice to make for governor. The media coverage on the bill does not appear to be helpful to the governor in his fight to regain the support of even the moderate members of his own party. And I believe that he needs those voters in November, if he wants to win.

RELATED: A one-on-one with John Gregg

He clearly disagrees with me. It seems his political strategy is to be the best damn governor for which 35 percent of Indiana could ever ask. And for that to pay off, he is going to need to squeeze the life out of that base. Pun intended.

Pence has now drawn a line in the sand for a second time that doesn't attract people to join him — at least not those who weren't already with him. Conversely, it chases many others away. He lost a chunk of the middle over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and may have exiled the rest of them with this one.

Women are already angry with Donald Trump. His unfavorable rating with them is approaching 80 percent. Pence is chasing him down that same path now. I mention these two candidates together on purpose. The reason is that neither of them reflects the people they need to win their elections. That usually spells defeat.

When the courts strike down this act, the base that pushed it will likely feel far more lifeless than they feel today. I just wonder if they will feel this horrible message was worth it.

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Michael Leppert

Michael Leppert

Michael Leppert is a public and governmental affairs consultant in Indianapolis and writes his thoughts about politics, government and anything else that strikes him at

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