Indiana Gov. Mike Pence increasingly resembles a kind of Marty McFly in reverse.
Marty McFly, of course, was the hero of the classic time-travel comedy, Back to the Future. As played by Michael J. Fox, Marty was a 1980s teenager who finds himself mistakenly transported back to the 1950s. He has to struggle hard to return to his own time – to go back to the future.
Pence, on the other hand, seems desperate to find a way back to the past.
His recent decision to have Indiana ignore and resist efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants is an example. Pence said the EPA standards would inhibit Hoosiers’ access to a stable source of “affordable electricity.”
Much of the criticism directed at Pence’s decision to defy the EPA has focused on the environmental and health consequences of a continued reliance on coal. And that criticism is valid. Using coal as a source of energy does damage both to the environment and to Hoosiers’ health.
But that’s not the only cost.
We live in an era in which new fortunes – fortunes that will create jobs by the thousands – will be made by the people and places that develop new, efficient and more environmentally sustainable sources of energy.
Those people and places that don’t?
Well, they’ll be stuck thinking about the good old days, when jobs were plentiful, before the world moved on and left them behind.
Nor is energy the only area in which the governor’s leadership guides us rearward.
Much of his focus in crafting both economic development and education policy has been focused on one goal, eliminating or curtailing organized labor. Pence has found few unions that he did not want to bust.
That might have been an ideological passion we could indulge, if not condone, in the 1950s, but now it verges on being suicidal.
Economists everywhere now warn us that the world will face a labor shortage within the next 15 years. That’s easy to predict because everyone who will be in the labor force in 2030 already has been born, so doing the math isn’t tough.
This coming shortage will set off an international and pitched competition for talented workers. The places that have established friendly environments for workers will survive and even thrive.
Those that haven’t will not.
This new dynamic calls for a new relationship between businesses and labor, one that is more collaborative in nature. The states that cultivate those new kinds of relationships will be rewarded with high individual incomes and high-quality standards of living. Those that persist in fighting and refighting the labor battles of the 1980s, the 1950s, the 1930s and the 1880s will have some nice scars to show for their efforts, but not much else.
We’re already seeing the effects of these backward gazes.
The governor said that Indiana’s jobs numbers both demonstrate that the damage done by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has faded and that the state may not need to adopt new civil rights language protecting gay and lesbian Hoosiers from discrimination.
On the surface, the state’s job growth looks impressive. The numbers are up and it’s a rare week in which the governor doesn’t get to do a ribbon-cutting or have some announcement touting new jobs coming to the state.
The problem is that those jobs don’t meet the needs of the present, much less the future. Hoosier household income growth continues to lag in comparison with the four states around Indiana – even Kentucky, which a generation ago lagged far behind, is catching up to us – and an alarming number of the state’s residents are falling out of the middle class. More than 20 percent of the state’s children live in poverty.
For those Hoosiers, these never will be the good old days.
Those Hoosiers need someone to lead them through a future filled with both danger and opportunity.
Instead, they have Mike Pence, a governor whose vision is to move forward to the past.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.