I used to think there wasn't much difference between
Republicans and Democrats in Indiana. "Republicrat"
seemed an apt way of describing this state's genus politicalus.
That was before Republicans took control of the
In last November's elections, Republicans added six
members to their majority in the state Senate. In the House, where Democrats
previously held a one-vote advantage, the Republicans really romped, adding
Factor in Republican Governor Mitch Daniels and you
have what amounts to one-party rule.
This year's legislative session has been a crash
course in what one-party rule — make that Republican Party rule — looks like.
In just a few weeks, Republican politicians appear to have set the stage to
roll back the 21st Century and deposit Indiana in a time capsule
Republicans have gone on a legislative bender. So far,
they have put forth a bill aimed at creating a draconian immigration law based
on racial profiling. Then there is the proposal to allow people to carry guns
and ammunition into a variety of public places, while restricting the ability
of communities to regulate guns.
If Republicans have their way, Indiana would
have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, and
Planned Parenthood could find its funding to provide reproductive health
services to disadvantaged women slashed. A Republican plan to change the way
schools are funded would divert public money to private schools, cut funding for
urban districts where student enrollments are decreasing, and further
accelerate what has clearly become the dismantling of the state's public
And, as if all this weren't enough, Republicans have renewed
their campaign to write second-class citizenship into the state's constitution
by putting forth a discriminatory amendment that not only bans gay marriage,
but refuses to recognize any form of legal partnership, like civil unions,
between same-sex couples.
As has been pointed out countless times in the past,
Indiana already has a law making gay marriage illegal. That's not good enough for
state Republicans. They seem to sense the fundamental unfairness of the law.
They know it could be challenged in court and that, someday, a judge might rule
So they want to write this unfairness into the constitution
That'll fix those gays. It will be the equivalent of a
sign saying "Stay Away!"
What appears to have escaped the state's Republican
defenders of heterosexuality is that their insistence on granting privileges to
some people, while outlawing those privileges for others, actually makes
Indiana appear not virtuous but backward. The Greater Indianapolis Chamber of
Commerce has gone on record in opposition to the amendment because its members
fear it proclaims Indiana to be intolerant and unwelcoming.
But there's the rub. The state's Republicans could
care less what people think in Indianapolis. Indeed, as one reads through this
session's legislative checklist, it's hard not to see what amounts to a strong
anti-urban bias. Indianapolis has become a significant point of entry for Mexican
immigrants. It also has a significant problem with gun violence. Many women are
drawn to the city because it affords greater access to reproductive health care
than is found in rural communities. And while the city's public school system
has seen declining enrollment, it has also been called on to play a greater and
more complex role in the lives of the students who remain.
Indianapolis has also become a Democratic political stronghold,
as well as an oasis of relative economic prosperity compared with the rest of
Indiana. I suspect these characteristics are not lost on Republican legislators
whose constituents share a history of mistrust and resentment toward the city.
The feeling that Indianapolis somehow profits at a cost
to the rest of the state has been an article of bad faith in outlying
communities for years. This prejudice has probably been exacerbated by Indiana's
overall lack of economic vitality. This year's Republican obsession with social
legislation reflects that party's basic inability to actually do anything about
creating jobs or truly improving the state's feeble economy.
It also speaks to Gov. Daniels' lack of leadership. It's
ironic that the governor's presidential bona fides are being touted by national
pundits at the very moment legislators in his own party appear to be rolling
him. Whatever else Daniels may be, he is a businessman. Surely he knows that
his party's obsessions with immigration, women's reproductive rights and gay
rights are not only wasting valuable time that could spent on local government
reforms, but are painting Indiana into a competitive corner in relation to
Daniels spent significant time and money campaigning
for Republicans in the months leading up to November's election. He wanted to
make sure he got the majorities that now hold sway in the Statehouse. That he
has yet to call in his markers, to impose some semblance of discipline on what,
so far, has been a runaway train, makes him either impotent or complicit in what
will be remembered as the social undoing of Indiana by his party and his party
alone — the state's Republicans.