A few years ago if you asked if I thought the amendment banning same-sex marriage in Indiana would easily pass the electorate, I would have said, "Sure." Today, I am not so sure.
As we all know, attitudes on this issue have moved faster than Glenda Ritz running out of a State Board of Education meeting, and the latest three polls show that if this were to go to the electorate, the initial odds favor the opponents of the amendment.
* On Sept. 24, Freedom Indiana released a poll showing two-thirds of Hoosiers oppose the amendment. The actual ratio was 64 to 36 percent of 800 registered voters surveyed.
* A Nov. 14 poll by WISH-TV and Ball State University showed 58 percent of 600 Hoosier adults surveyed opposed the ban while 38 percent supported it.
* A poll commissioned by the Indiana Family Institute in October said 62 percent of the 504 likely voters surveyed said they support the amendment while 33 oppose it.
So we have three polls staring us in the face. Let's assume all three are valid, even though my friends at the Indiana Family Institute have yet to release their crosstabs. So what's the average?
According to my math, 51 percent of Hoosiers oppose the amendment while 45 percent support it. Of course this is where the standard line comes in "the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day."
This trend really should not surprise anyone. As CNN recently reported, more than 1 in 3 Americans live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, Hawaii and my home state of Illinois were the last two to join the club. Gallup released a poll back in July showing 52 percent of Americans supported legalized same-sex marriage and 41 percent opposed. It's worth noting that back in 1996, 68 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage.
Now before marriage amendment opponents get too excited, they should realize they have their work cut out for them. GOP internal polling prior to the last election had the marriage amendment question polling at about 56 percent. Also, as anyone who has taken Politics 101 knows, mid-term elections are a little bit of a different creature and turnout is a lot lower than in years when presidential elections are held.
In fact, marriage amendment supporters are counting on lower voter turnout to save the day. Unlike 2008 when Barack Obama was on the ticket and voter turnout was 62 percent, supporters say this election will be more like 2002 when there was no gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidate at the top of the ticket. Voter turnout in that election was only 39 percent.
The counter to that, however, is that marriage amendment opponents have Megan Robertson — one of the smartest political operatives in the state — on their side. She helped Congressman Luke Messer, R-Ind., get elected in a crowded 2012 primary, but her real claim to fame came with the crucial help she provided Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard in his 2011 quest for re-election. That race had 12,000 more straight-ticket Democratic voters heading to the polls than Republican, but Ballard beat Melina Kennedy by 8,000 votes. So somebody did something right.
Of course all this could be made moot if my friends in the Legislature do the right thing and figure out a way to kill this thing. The polls indicate that support will only continue to erode as time goes on.
This column is probably going to throw every Republican, Democrat and political insider in Marion County for a loop, but Indianapolis City-County Councilor Brian Mahern, at least for the next couple of years, is now the most powerful elected local Democrat in the city. No, you did not read that incorrectly. Mahern is now officially the most powerful Democrat in the city. And for that to come from me of all people, the person who has criticized his every move since Democrats took over the Council says quite a bit. Allow me to elaborate.
Mahern has been at odds with his party for quite a while, criticizing his fellow Democrats almost as much as he does the Mayor. Things got so bad this year that Mahern had to step down as vice president and Democrats removed him from his position as chairman of the Rules Committee. Mahern recently attempted a coup against current Council President Maggie Lewis. He called for an election to be put on the agenda for the Council's next meeting so a new president could be chosen. The motion needed 15 votes, but it only garnered 11. Republicans Jeff Miller, Will Gooden, Christine Scales and Jose Evans joined the Democrats in defeating the measure. The County party retaliated, in part, by removing anyone related to a Mahern from their appointed position as precinct committeeman.
So how does all this make Mahern the most powerful elected Democrat in Marion County? Well, to use a Star Wars analogy, by striking Mahern down Democrats have only made him more powerful than they could imagine. When Democrats took over the City-County Council in 2012, they had a 16-13 majority over Republicans. Earlier this year, Jose Evans switched parties and became a Republican which took them down to 15-14. And now between a failed coup and efforts to politically castrate Mahern, Democrats really only have a majority in name only, in other words what is a 15-14 majority on paper is really a functional, sorry, make that dysfunctional majority of 14-14-1, with Mahern being the one.
If this still isn't connecting, let me try this another way. To pass anything down at the City-County building you need 15 votes, Democrats only have 14 guaranteed votes. With Mahern now being the wildcard in all this, the Democrats have a couple options: Try and work with Republicans on legislation that is actually good for the City; rely on Christine Scales, who can be a bit of a maverick in her own right, on the Republican side; or keep doing business as usual, roll the dice and hope for the best. They've already gotten a taste of what a dysfunctional majority is like when the Council tried to pass an appropriation for the Sheriff's Department to cover raises since John Layton overspent his budget (again), but Mahern did not join them and the measure failed.
Now the good news for the Democrats is that they still control the committee process, which gives them more control of the agenda. However when the measure gets to the floor, it's open season. And also add the fact that with only a 14-member in name "majority" Democrats can't afford for anyone to be absent. And to make life even more interesting, in January it will be time to pick new Council leadership which means this whole process will start all over again. Who would have thought that within two years, Democrats would have taken their 16-13 majority and turned into a 14-14-1 cluster-you-know-what. And to put icing on the cake, the most powerful one of the lot, would be the one they can't stand the most. Behold, the Mighty Mahern!