Commentary: This issue should reside in a trash heap

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s long march into idiocy continues.

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indiana, has decided that raising the issue of the residency of U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Indiana, will give him an edge in the mud-wrestling match the two have going on to become the next GOP candidate for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

Because Messer has a home in D.C., where his family lives with him, and another place in Tennessee, the Rokita campaign insinuates that Messer has lost touch with Indiana.

As campaign issues go, this is one of the dumbest.

I have watched in mounting disbelief as the residency question has become an “issue” in one Hoosier election after another. The fact that it has swayed votes is proof some voters have the attention spans and comprehensions of fruit flies.

I write this not out of any particular sympathy for Messer. So far, neither he nor Rokita has comported himself with enough dignity to merit appointment as a kindergarten hall monitor, much less election to the U.S. Senate.

But, at some point, rationality must reassert itself.

We have seen the residency “issue” help derail the political career of U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana. Former Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock and his supporters raised the issue in the 2012 Republican Senate primary to suggest Lugar had lost touch with Indiana voters. Mourdock defeated Lugar in the primary, but lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly in the general election.

Last year, former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, faced the residency question in his battle with Republican Todd Young. Bayh lost and Young won.

Now, we see Todd Rokita trying to hammer Luke Messer on the same anvil.

Lugar is a fifth-generation Hoosier who was born in this state.

Bayh is a fourth-generation Hoosier, who also was born in Indiana.

I couldn’t find information on how long Messer’s family had lived in Indiana, but he was born in Evansville and graduated from Greensburg Community High School.

The irony that Mourdock was born in Ohio, Young in Pennsylvania and Rokita in Illinois doubtless is lost on them and their followers.

Now, I’m not saying that the fact that Mourdock, Young and Rokita were born elsewhere should disqualify them from holding elective office. They came here, put down roots and have led – Mourdock’s and Rokita’s forays into alt-right fantasies and conspiracy theories aside – good and productive lives.

Just as we shouldn’t punish people who are Hoosiers by birth, we also shouldn’t punish those who become Hoosiers by choice.

That’s not what the residency requirements were meant to do.

What they were meant to do is something that, as this last election demonstrated, they apparently are incapable of doing – preventing people with no significant history or connection with the state from gaining public office here.

Last year, though, Hoosiers in southern and central Indiana sent to the U.S. House of Representatives Republican Trey Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth needed a map to find his district – and probably still does. His commitment to serving Indiana sprang from a desire to find the cheapest open congressional district in the United States to purchase.

He came here, spent family money lavishly in pursuit of the seat and then set about trying to figure out the difference between Nashville, Indiana, and Nashville, Tennessee. I’m sure we all hope his studies go well.

In the meantime, we Hoosiers have representing us in Congress a person whose roots in Indiana likely could be washed away by a light rain.

That’s why the residency issue is both idiotic and absurd.

If it can’t stop modern-day carpet baggers from gaining office but can be used against people whose ties to Indiana stretch back more than a century – and, particularly in Lugar’s and Bayh’s cases, who have rendered decades of service to the state – then it serves no valid purpose.

I grasp why Todd Rokita would take the tack he has.

His calculation – and it doubtless is a sound one – is that he stands a better chance of winning if he makes this a race to determine the lowest common denominator.

But we don’t have to help him in his quest to dumb down Indiana.

And we certainly don’t have to help him punish Hoosiers for being Hoosiers who have done well in the world.

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.

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