How the smoking ban went up in flames 

COURTESY OF DAVE HULL
  • Courtesy of Dave Hull

When I watched the Indianapolis City-County Council Monday night fail to override Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's veto of the recently passed smoking ban, I was going to tweet a snarky comment.Then remembered something my parents used to tell me, "Never speak ill of the dead."

click to enlarge Abdul-Hakim_Shabazz.jpg

Still, someone must point out that the people who killed the smoking ban are ironically the same people who brought it to the table in the first place.

Considering the following statistics, one would think public health advocates would be satisfied with any sort of progress:

In 2009, the Center for Disease Control reported Indiana had the second highest smoking rate in the nation.According to the Indiana Hospital Association, smoking kills about 10,000 Hoosiers every year. The Indiana Department of Public Health says nearly 80 percent of high school students and 77 percent of middle school students who live with a smoker are exposed to secondhand smoke in a room at least once per day. And tobacco use costs the state $2.2 billion, with nearly $450 million in direct tobacco-related costs to Medicaid.

But efforts at compromise in the name of public health were futile.

First, the smoking ban that went down to defeat this week was not the original proposal, actually proponents, i.e. Councilor Angela Mansfield, had plans drafted for a much more draconian/comprehensive ban that would have had virtually no exemptions. Mansfield and her strong supporters were preparing for a Melina Kennedy mayorship.Things even got to the point where Tobacco Free Kids' political action committee spent money dropping more than 60,000 mailers to Marion County voters attacking incumbent Greg Ballard on the smoking ban, crime and education.As you can see the group backed the wrong horse and all they got for their trouble was a re-elected Mayor who is probably holding a grudge.

The second mistake supporters made was failing to pass the proposal originally offered by former City-Council President Ryan Vaughn shortly after the election.Vaughn's proposal would have eliminated smoking in bars and taverns, exempted tobacco shops, cigar and hookah bars and private clubs would have to vote on whether they wanted to remain smoke free.Had this measure been passed, smoke-free advocates would have gotten 90 percent of what they wanted.

A hang up over private clubs, however, brought things to a halt.When the parties were meeting with the mayor and they originally agreed to the private club language, no one had taken into consideration the fact that private clubs have events that allow minors and smoking is segregated to certain areas, i.e. the Columbia Club, so language was amended for that exemption.(Full disclosure, I am a member.) The logic here was that it is not fair that a club would have to choose between adults and families because smoking was allowed in two rooms on one floor of a 10-story building.The advocates cried bloody murder, accused Republicans of moving the goal post and did not support Vaughn's proposal, although he warned them that this was the only proposal the mayor would sign.Please note, that underneath all this was the desire by Council Democrats to deny Mayor Greg Ballard a victory.

The third mistake the smoke-free crowd made was thinking that they could override the mayor's veto.Under city ordinance, it takes 20 votes to override a veto and Democrats only have 16 votes on the council.The first sign should have been the fact that Monday night the vote to put the veto override on the agenda was 16-12.Usually procedural votes are a good measure of how the substantive vote will go, so the "outrage" that was expressed Monday night over Republicans who did not vote to override the Mayor's veto was a bit disingenuous. Also, from a political perspective, a vote to override a mayoral veto is an entirely different one than a vote for a policy matter. From a practical perspective, if you are a Republican on the council, you are in the minority and to go against your mayor on an issue of that magnitude is the perfect way to make sure your council career is miserable for the next four years.

Now those above-mentioned reasons all relate directly to the smoking ban. They all seem like plausible explanations as to why the smoking ban veto override failed, however they are also all collateral issues.

The big reason the veto override failed is because of bad blood between the two parties created by council Democrats in general and Majority Leader Vernon Brown in particular.At the first council meeting, Democrats tried to reorganize the Council's committee structure.The normal make up for most committees was 5-3; the majority party got five seats, the minority party received three.However, Brown drafted a plan that increased Democratic representation and reduced Republican representation so the new committee make-up was now 6-2.That caused a lot of bad blood and a lot of shouting between the parties.Brown pulled back a bit and gave the Republicans back their spot on committees but left the Democrats at six members.This created a lot of ill will between the two parties and all but guaranteed that Democrats would get no help from Republicans on any big-ticket items, like overriding a mayoral veto on a smoking ban.

So let's recap, council Democrats had several chances to get a wider-reaching smoking ban that would have covered bars and taverns but because of their own intransigence, political bumbling, and overreach they got absolutely nothing.As I said at the onset of this column, I could have been really snarky with my comments, but there was no need to, council Democrats and smoke-free advocates have made my point perfectly clear.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an attorney, the editor of IndyPolitics.Org and a frequent political analyst for RTV 6. His audio and analysis are courtesy of IndyPolitics.Org.

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