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Indiana: Looking right for No. 1 

click to enlarge Dan Carpenter
  • Dan Carpenter

You’ve got your Texas, your Mississippi, even your – Lord save our cheese – Wisconsin.

Could the most rightwing state in the union be our own Indiana?

I’m tempted to call it a lock after reading a recent piece in the liberal organ Truthout with the headline “The Ultra-Right-Wing State Nobody Mentions.”

That’s an overstatement, of course. Just for starters, our current governor and his immediate predecessor each has generated national buzz as a presidential aspirant, and neither is on the short list for the Eugene V. Debs Award.

The “Ultra-Right-Wing” part, though, is pretty well substantiated in a detailed text that delves into such issues as labor, abortion, voter ID, immigration, environment and privatization of schools and other government functions. Writer Bryan K. Bullock correctly calls Indiana “ground zero” for a slew of these pet rightwing initiatives.

For some of us, that’s a stigma; for others, a trophy. For me, it’s plain interesting in ways the author may not have intended.

What’s remarkable is, for all its assiduous homework and leftwing zeal, the article falls well short of fully capturing just how far from the spectrum’s center the Hoosier state has lurched.

It astutely links school charters and vouchers to the undermining of urban school systems and unions, for example; but fails to note that vouchers have breached the wall between church and state as well.

It bemoans the plight of poor, black Gary; but overlooks the blatant state-level schemes by Republicans to hold back the Democratic tide in Indianapolis, through such measures as eliminating at-large City-County Council seats (all held by Democrats) and banning satellite polling places for early voting.

A pioneer in discouraging poor and minority voters by mandating photo IDs without proffering a single case of fraud (as the Truthout article notes), Indiana has consistently refereed the election process from the GOP team’s bench. The Democrats of LBJ’s Texas would have taken notes.

Bullock’s portrayal of former Gov. Mitch Daniels as an archconservative who wasn’t recognized as such is pretty much on the money, and I must say I’ve been astonished by local and national media buy-in to his common-sense, collaborative image. Impure as he (and even pietistic successor Mike Pence) might be in the eyes of some true believers on the far, far right, Daniels is an unabashed reactionary who dismisses all contrary views as subversive cant. Presiding over a state ranked even by Forbes magazine as one of the dirtiest in the nation, he has labeled the EPA the “Employment Prevention Administration” – a cute Danielism Bullock might have included in his accurate indictment of our environmental record. Here’s a proud anti-intellectual who has moved on to the presidency of a great state research university (as the article points out – and might have added that he was appointed by trustees he appointed).

What else? One of the gun lobby’s favorite states? Regulatory agencies headed by minions of the regulated industries? Regressive taxes (sales) making up for losses from tax cuts for the rich (inheritance)? Unbridled mega-livestock farming and state forest timbering?

OK, it was a magazine article, not a book. But I can’t cease my nitpicking without invoking two names.

Bullock failed to mention Greg Zoeller, one of America’s most militant attorneys general, who has used a nominally impartial office to combat marriage equality, attack Planned Parenthood and deny low-income Hoosiers health benefits that just so happen to emanate from a Democratic White House.

And speaking of elections Ultra Indiana won’t accept, let’s not forget Glenda Ritz, the Democrat whose audacity in beating Tony Bennett for state schools chief has been answered by the governor and his allies with open retaliation, complete with the creation of a rump department of education staffed with six-figure-salaried enemy agents.

Whew. If we’re the Ultra-Right-Wing State Nobody Mentions, it’s certainly not for lack of something to talk about. If the media aren’t giving us our due, you can bet folks like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council are.

Indiana’s a laboratory, if not a poster child, for a centrist nation under rightist sway. Whether your politics incline you to call that bad news or good news, it does deserve to be bigger news.

Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, a contributor to The Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”

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