Commentary: GOP legislative leaders exert control

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com

John Krull, executive editor, TheStatehouseFile.com

John Krull, executive editor, TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Halfway through the Indiana General Assembly’s 2013 session, a couple of things are clear.

Commentary button in JPG - no shadowThe first is that power, like water, will flow back through the channels to which it is accustomed if it’s given the chance to do so.

In the case of Indiana’s state government, that means that a lot of power has flowed back to its customary channel, the legislative branch.

The eight years in which Mitch Daniels was governor made it seem as if the executive branch controlled the reins for state government. In Daniels’ case, that was true. He drove state government as few other governors have – we would have to go back to Otis Bowen’s time in office to find a reasonably close parallel – but Daniels was the exception, not the rule.

Compared to many other governors, Indiana’s chief executive doesn’t have many constitutional powers at his or her disposal in the traditional tug-of-war with the legislative branch.

The legislature, for example, can override the governor’s veto with a simple majority. And, while the governor is subject to term limits, lawmakers are not. It’s not hard for legislators to play a waiting game or run out the clock.

Lawmakers chafed at Daniels’ control, particularly as his time in office neared its end. At more than one public event, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, groused that the legislature hadn’t received its share of the credit for the successes of the Daniels years.

With a new governor in office, Republican Mike Pence, who so far hasn’t shown that he has either Daniels’ executive energy or passion for innovative public policy proposals, lawmakers saw a chance to reassert the legislative branch’s historic pre-eminence.

Pence’s pet proposal for this session is a 10 percent personal income tax cut. Right now, it’s nowhere to be found in the budget or any other piece of legislation moving forward.

Pence’s supporters remind us, appropriately, that the session still is young and the tax cut proposal could reappear. The scenario, though, in which Pence’s supporters say that could happen – after the lawmakers take care of everything else, they might see if there’s enough left over to “give” the governor some portion of the tax cut so he can have a victory – doesn’t exactly suggest executive strength.

The second thing that is clear is that super-majorities – quorum-proof majorities – are not effortless to manage, but Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, have demonstrated that they each have a deft touch in doing so.

The danger with majorities that large is that, without disciplined leadership, they can explode as expectations swell to the bursting point and the temptation to overreach becomes irresistible.

There are many Republicans who see this as their time, the moment in history when Christmas comes every day and Santa should bring them everything on their wish list.

Perhaps because Bosma and Long have been in the legislature since just slightly after the day Lincoln was shot, they have seen where that road could lead – to a backlash and eventual loss of power. And they have decided they do not want to go there.

What has been impressive about the way they have led this session is the way they have kept their caucuses focused on what they see as the GOP’s priorities. They have kept a lid on spending, pushed to expand the state’s voucher program and continued the campaign to curtail the power of organized labor.

They wisely deferred what could have been a big, messy and distracting battle over the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that had the potential to create splits in their caucuses and they have managed to keep Republicans marching in the same direction.

In the places where they’ve needed to give more activist conservatives a bone to chew on – Long’s call for a new constitutional convention comes to mind – they have done so.

But they haven’t let those diversions distract from the work before them.

One can disagree, of course, with the direction on which Bosma and Long are steering the ship of state – and many people will disagree with them.

But it’s clear that just as power in Indiana state government flowed back into its accustomed legislative channel, two experienced hands had control of the tiller.

And we’re pretty much sailing where they want to take us.

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.

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