By John Krull
John Krull, executive editor, TheStatehouseFile.com
INDIANAPOLIS – We are about to see another episode of “Family Feud” in the Indiana political theater.
Just days after the Indiana General Assembly came back for the second part of its 2013 legislative session – the part where the hard work gets done – the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity announced it will launch a statewide campaign in support of Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed 10 percent personal income tax cut.
So far, lawmakers have been reluctant to embrace Pence’s plan. At present, the tax cut is nowhere to be found in the budget or in any other piece of legislation.
That’s why Americans for Prosperity – AFP – decided to step in. The group said it would spend at least $100,000 in Indiana pushing Pence’s proposed cut.
The conservative group is a major player on the national scene. Largely funded and founded by the arch-conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, AFP claimed a large portion of the credit for delivering the U.S. House of Representatives to the Republican Party in 2010.
Here in Indiana AFP was one of the outside special interest groups that helped propel Republican challenger Richard Mourdock to his victory in the 2012 U.S. Senate primary over longtime incumbent and fellow Republican Richard Lugar. Mourdock then fell in the general election to Democrat Joe Donnelly.
Chase Downham, the Indiana director of Americans for Prosperity, said Thursday the group will launch an ad campaign to support Gov. Mike Pence’s plan to cut income tax rates by 10 percent. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com
Democrats all but admitted that they had no hope of defeating Lugar themselves and that they were praying that Mourdock and groups like AFP would knock the incumbent off for them. AFP complied – and thus helped cost the GOP a Senate seat that had been safe for decades.
An experience like that might have chastened some folks about the dangers of eating their own, but apparently not AFP.
Like last year’s Senate battle, this latest campaign will be one waged among Republicans and against Republicans – with Democrats in all likelihood clapping their hands with glee off-stage.
The GOP, of course, controls not just the governor’s office in Indiana, but also the House of Representatives and Senate. In fact, Republicans own both chambers by such decisive majorities that even if Democrats didn’t show up, the legislature still could do its business.
Many Republican lawmakers – including House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne – have held Pence’s tax cut proposal at arm’s length for several reasons, despite the fact that Indiana has a $2 billion budget surplus.
The legislators have taken this stand for reasons that once were considered both prudent and conservative. They know the state has pressing challenges in funding education properly and in maintaining its roads and bridges, to name just two. They want to make sure that the state has enough money on hand to meet those challenges.
Lawmakers also worry that there might be another economic downturn, which would create additional stresses on the state’s finances. The last thing any politician wants to have to do is vote for a tax increase or deep cuts in services during hard times.
And, should hard times return and were that surplus to disappear, legislators would have to make that hard and unpopular choice, because the Indiana constitution prohibits the state from deficit spending.
That is why the House and Senate are so protective of that $2 billion surplus.
There was a time when nurturing surpluses and husbanding resources for a rainy day were considered the hallmarks of American political conservatives.
AFP, though, represents a relatively new breed of conservatives. They abhor surpluses almost as much as they do deficits – in large part because they see government always as the enemy, even when they’re running the government.
For these new conservatives, it’s more important to be right – in many cases, far right – than it is to be in control. As they demonstrated with the Mourdock-Lugar race, they have no reluctance to tear the house down just to make a point.
That’s what will make this campaign about the tax cut proposal so interesting. In many ways, it will be a debate among Republicans about what it means to be a conservative.
And, because it will be a discussion among deeply committed people about their core beliefs, it has the potential to get truly vicious – just as the Mourdock-Lugar campaign did.
Let the show begin.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.