Pence strikes out on civil rights


Henry Chadwick, an English born historian and creator of baseball's box score, used the letter "K" to denote a strikeout in the scorebook because it was the last letter in "struck" — as in "struck out." He used that last letter because it seemed to him more memorable than the other letters in that phrase, and more than 100 years later, every scorer uses a "K" to mark a strikeout.

For hitters, the only thing worse than a swing and a miss at strike three is when that strike is called by the umpire without the hitter swinging at all. This is known as being "struck out looking," and it's noted in the scorebook as a backward K.

It's embarrassing. If you have to go down, go down swinging, right?

Civil rights expansion in Indiana went down on Tuesday. And it went down on a backward K.

So who was at the plate?

Gov. Mike Pence was the batter on this one. He stood alone at the plate looking at a tough pitch of his own creation, a political challenge he constructed himself.

The negative consequences that come from the historic inaction on the legislature's third floor of the Indiana Statehouse will fall heavily downstairs onto the second floor. That's where the governor has been hiding from all of this — in his office on the third floor — since last spring.

A governor that seriously wanted this regretful chapter in our history closed would have gone upstairs and rallied his Republican partners and gotten a deal done. This is the fifth governor I have known and trust me, when governors engage the legislature on things like this, deals get done.

All he had to do was swing the bat.

The truth is he didn't want to swing. And he has been looking at pitches since House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, decided to "fix" RFRA — a Pence debacle and a national firestorm from last session.

In the last year, Pence has spoken little regarding the issue, except to say that he is listening to people. This includes the classic nonevent that was his State of the State speech last month, where he declared religious liberty was his priority. I am still desperately looking for that mysterious threat to said liberty in America. In my neighborhood, the only thing more plentiful than "Fire Mike Pence" yard signs is the number of active and varied churches.

I must live in an incredibly ironic melting pot.

Long may have had his finest hour these last two weeks. First, he conducted a respectful and orderly hearing on the matter under uniquely tense circumstances. The hearing featured an evenly distributed three hours of testimony from the public and ninety minutes of committee discussion for all to see and hear. And while I am no fan of bills dying behind closed doors in caucus, he was as open and honest about the situation as possible. More importantly, he was realistic about the likelihood of the expansion's passage in the future, aptly describing it as "inevitable."

Speaker Bosma hasn't even had his chance at bat, and the death of Senate Bill 344 symbolizes the end of the inning. He apparently won't be getting that chance this year — and that seems to be just fine with him.

And so the first half of the civil rights session ended Wednesday. There will be no expanded rights passed this year, though more than ever before admit that its passage is only a matter of time. It is also doubtful that the legislature will suffer much as a result of the inaction. And in this case, it is easy to understand why.

Pence did not lead on the issue. Period. He owns the legislature's divisiveness. He owns the state's lack of direction. And for those on the evangelical side of the debate who are celebrating, the governor didn't stand strong for them, either. He passively let them win a victory that's only temporary.

Pence took strike three. His bat is still firmly planted on his shoulder. It's what every baseball or softball parent teaches a child not to do.

So, thank you, Henry Chadwick, for giving us the backward K. American politics needed a new way to describe an innovative way to fail.