…With A Little Help from My Friends

On my way to work this morning, WFYI informed me that today is the day Mark Massa will be sworn in as the newest Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

When Governor Daniels announced that he had chosen Massa, there was a good deal of criticism. Some observers expressed surprise that–once again–the Governor had ignored an opportunity to diversify the Court, that–once again–he had declined to appoint an eminently qualified woman. Adding insult to injury, Daniels claimed that his choice was based upon the candidates’ relative qualifications for the job, a manifestly bogus excuse.

I was not surprised by the choice, which I’d predicted well before the commission charged with winnowing the field even sent three names to the Governor. Nor do I believe it had any more to do with sexism than it did with merit.

This is Indiana–the crony state.

There’s a pretty robust academic literature dealing with political culture. Some states (Massachusetts, say) have a liberal culture that promotes public service; others (Arizona, Texas) take a considerably more conservative, parochial approach to the role of government. When I was researching state differences in political culture for a book on the Faith-Based Initiative, I asked George Geib–past Dean of History at Butler University and a long-time Indianapolis Republican operative–how he would describe Indiana’s political approach. His answer was that the framework within which we conduct our affairs is quid pro quo. 

Look around at the so-called “privatization” initiatives. Lucrative deals for parking and welfare intake have gone to well-connected ACS. The developer of the parking garage being built in Broad Ripple used to work for the Ballard Administration. A PR firm that gets city business just “happens” to employ Ballard’s son. These are just a few examples that come readily to mind; there are literally hundreds of others.

This isn’t new in Indiana, and it isn’t the exclusive provenance of Republicans. Both parties have practiced politics as spoils system, both have favored their cronies with appointments and contracts.

The problem women have in a crony system is that we are late to the party, and less likely to play the game–less likely to be one of the favored cronies. Nothing against our gender–if we were playing by the good old boys’ rules, we’d probably be equally likely to be rewarded with the plum jobs and/or contracts.

Mark Massa was counsel to the Governor; by all accounts, the two are friends. And in a state where doing business with your friends is the way business is done, his appointment was a foregone conclusion.


  1. Political nepotism at its finest! I couldn’t agree more. I hate it that so much of our local politics is centered around the small-town, boys’-club mentality. It certainly doesn’t foster positive, progressive changes…

  2. I understand your position but Mark is well qualified for the position Do you really believe that if given a choice any of us wouldn’t choose the person we know over the person we don’t? If we focus on qualifications, experience, and temprament, we should all be pleased that the Governor chose well.

  3. I am not sure the best system for selecting judges. The “Missouri Plan” employed to select Indiana appellate court judges certainly does not remove politics from the system. But our system here is certainly no better or less political than the federal system. Try litigating cases over at the Southern District. That will make you appreciate the Indiana court system and the fact our judges do no not serve life terms (At least the trial judges…the appellate judges pretty much do.) I had one of the top civil rights attorneys in Indiana tell me he avoids federal court because that court is so hostile to plaintiffs and so friendly to be law firms which represent big corporate clients. And that is despite the fact that there are a number of Democratic judges over there, so it’s not a Republican or Democratic thing. I should say though I’m seeing a ray of hope with Judge Tanya Walton-Pratt, however. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  4. I agree that Massa is qualified; he simply wasn’t the ONLY or MOST qualified. And your point about choosing the folks we know is fair enough–IF there are not other considerations being ignored in order to prefer a friend.

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