Dealing with the Embarrassment

I logged onto the Star’s front page this morning, only to discover that Matt Tully had already written my intended post.

It’s embarrassing. Even those of us who hate football have to be impressed with the skill and energy and sheer hard work that has gone into SuperBowl preparations. Even those of us who disagree with the city’s persistent prioritizing of sports arenas over, say, schools and parks, have to be impressed–and considerably mollified–by the use of this particular sporting event to trigger reinvestment in the near-Eastside neighborhood. And even Indy dwellers who are urbanists with a permanent sense of our inferiority to great cities like Chicago and New York have to take pride in the ability of Indianapolis to rally thousands of volunteers, master complex logistics, and throw one hell of a party. (I just passed the amazing ice sculpture of the New York skyline that appeared overnight next to the firehouse on Mass Avenue. Very cool–in both senses of the word!)

And then there’s our legislature.

Tully compares the General Assembly to that weird cousin everyone has, and asks visitors to simply discount them. And there is certainly more than a grain of truth in that observation. Just like the weird cousin who is so fixated on his collection of Star Wars figurines he can’t carry on an adult conversation, Indiana’s lawmakers are so firmly rooted in their alternate realities they can’t be bothered to do the state’s business. After all, if they paid attention to water pollution or public transportation, who would undermine science education or ensure the proper singing of the national anthem?

That said, the spectacle that is the Indiana General Assembly can’t all be attributed to its rampant assault on science and reason. The anti-Indianapolis resentment that has long characterized our state legislature has played a prominent role, and it has been aided and abetted by a Governor who knew exactly what he was doing.

A video of a speech Mitch Daniels gave barely a year ago has been all over Facebook and local blogs; it shows the Governor disclaiming any interest in proposing a “divisive” Right to Work law, which he accurately described as something that would set off a “civil war.” Leaving aside the merits–or lack thereof–of the law itself, why would the Governor reverse himself and promote a measure he clearly knew would enrage thousands of Hoosiers at the very time the state capitol would be hosting the SuperBowl?

Hosting an event of this magnitude is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put our best foot forward, to use our brief visibility to impress potential visitors and employers. It’s bad enough that the usual buffoonery at the statehouse is an embarrassment, potentially undermining the efforts of countless volunteers. It’s inexcusable that the Governor and Speaker–who actually do have IQs–preferred an opportunity to weaken Indiana’s few remaining unions over a chance to support the efforts of citizens who have worked countless hours to host this event.

At the end of the day and despite our sorry excuse for state government, Indianapolis will still shine. Most visitors will accept Tully’s (apt) characterization of our horrendous legislature, if they think about it at all. But those of us who live in Central Indiana need to remember who embarrassed us in February–and we need to deal with them in November.

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