By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – The relative silence and sleepiness with which this session of the Indiana General Assembly has proceeded demonstrate a couple of things.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
The first is that, after more than a decade of controlling state government, there isn’t all that much left on the Indiana Republican Party’s wish list.
The GOP largely has remodeled Indiana over the past dozen years, turning the Hoosier state into a kind of laboratory for conservative governance. Some pitched battles – over right-to-work legislation, education, same-sex marriage and supposed religious freedom measures – have occurred along the way.
Republicans either have won those battles or figured out ways to disengage when they’ve learned the struggles were too costly to fight.
The result is that conservative lawmakers really don’t feel they have all that much to do.
That’s why much of the legislative focus now is either defensive in nature or an exercise in surrealism.
On the defensive side, there was the decision by the Indiana Senate Republican caucus to kill a hate crimes bill without a hearing. Indiana is one of only five states in the country not to have such a law.
The explanation offered by Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, for kicking the hate crimes bill into a shallow grave bordered on the absurd. He said that, thanks to a 2003 court decision, Indiana law already allows for enhanced penalties for people who commit bias-motivated criminal acts.
If that’s true, then codifying what the court already has decided would have cost Hoosier lawmakers nothing – and perhaps made an important statement that Indiana wants all citizens to be treated with respect.
That, apparently, was not a statement Senate Republicans wanted to make, so they shoveled dirt on both the measure and the discussion for another year.
On the surreal side, a measure that would allow Hoosier gun owners to bring their firearms to church and church schools moved ahead.
This is one of the latest items on the National Rifle Association’s shopping list. The gun lobby wants to “normalize” gun ownership and pistol packing in places previously thought safe and off-limits for firearms – such as churches, schools and other public spaces.
The thinking is that Americans either will be accustomed to seeing people carry deadly weapons everywhere – or grow weary of arguing about it – and the USA’s long march toward becoming the world’s great gun bazaar will continue unimpeded.
There is no evidence that supports the argument that this makes us safer – in fact, virtually all the studies not paid for by gun merchants demonstrate the opposite – but lawmakers indebted to or terrified by the NRA are determined to fetch whatever stick the firearms lobby commands them to retrieve.
Next up, doubtless, will be a measure requiring toddlers to bring grenade launchers to daycare. That ought to make the activity on the playground more frenetic and nap time less restful.
The fates of these two measures reveal two things.
The first is that much of the intellectual energy that fueled the Republican takeover of Indiana state government is spent. When Mitch Daniels became governor in 2005, he brought into office with him bold plans to remodel Indiana.
No one in state government has articulated or attempted to implement a vision that big since, perhaps because transforming grand visions into reality can be exhausting.
That fatigue now consumes many Hoosier Republicans.
The other thing these episodes show is that the Indiana business community doesn’t have the whip hand over the GOP that some people think.
Hoosier business leaders are savvy enough to realize that a coming worldwide labor shortage will make recruiting both companies and workers more and more difficult in these days. That’s why they were so upset about the battles over same-sex marriage and the misnamed Religious Freedom Restoration Act – because those fights undercut their message that Indiana is a safe, tolerant and inclusive state that is “open for business.”
For that reason, those same business leaders aren’t likely to be thrilled that the state’s lawmakers decided a hate crimes bill doesn’t even merit a hearing or that guns now are considered Hoosier fashion accessories.
But that’s the way things go.
Tired people inevitably have tired ideas.
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 website powered by Franklin College journalism students.