The World’s Worst Legislature

During his too-brief life, former NUVO editor Harrison Ullmann was best known for his repeated assertion that Indiana had the “world’s worst legislature.” Participants in the current session are once again demonstrating the accuracy of that label–and given the number of other legislative bodies that could plausibly win that title–especially, after yesterday, the United States Senate– awarding it to the Hoosiers in the Indiana Statehouse is really saying something.

The current session has seen a steady stream of bills by sponsors who haven’t even tried to obscure outrageous conflicts of interest: efforts by real estate developers to eliminate environmental protections like wetlands, a bill from a homebuilder/legislator that would disallow local design oversights. (Respecting the environment and following minimum design standards costs money, you know…)

An obscene number of measures take aim at Indianapolis.

I have previously pointed out that municipalities in Indiana have no genuine home rule–that the same lawmakers who bemoan “unfunded mandates” from Washington are perfectly happy to impose ridiculous constraints on Indiana’s cities and towns. It certainly won’t surprise anyone living in Indianapolis that our legislature– dominated by rural interests– has once again aimed its animus at the state’s largest city. But this year, the effort to spit in the face of the state’s economic driver–to punish Indianapolis for being “blue”–has gone into overdrive.

One bill would remove the police department from the control of the mayor and city council. Another would remove the city’s legal authority to provide bus rapid transit. Yet another would prevent the city from regulating the placement of 5G wireless devices.

A truly despicable bill that seems likely to pass is a legislative smackdown of a city ordinance that provided (minimal) extra protections for tenants. That measure, which passed previously, was vetoed by Governor Holcomb; legislators now propose to override that veto.  Indiana  law has historically and unfairly favored landlords; the Indianapolis City-County Council had begun to redress that imbalance.

As Michael Hicks recently wrote in a column for the Howey Report,

These are unusual issues for a state legislature to become involved in, but there’s more. One bill would prevent Indianapolis, or any other city, from changing its name. To be fair, that bill might be targeted at Russiaville, Toad Hop or Slab Town, not Indianapolis. Another would limit the powers of Indianapolis to undertake land-use authority within its city limits… 

This flurry of legislation aimed at the heart of Indiana’s largest municipal government seems to signal that something unseemly is happening in Indianapolis. 

What is “unseemly,” of course, is that Indianapolis is now a reliably Democratic city in a reliably Republican state.

The proposed punitive legislation wouldn’t just affect Marion County. (For those readers who don’t live in Indiana, the city limits have been essentially coterminous with the county’s since the early 1970s.) This is, as Hicks noted, different from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the surrounding counties. Much of the proposed legislation would affect both the City of Indianapolis and the surrounding metropolitan area that depends upon the success of the city.

Hicks also notes that–far from demonstrating “unseemly” governance,  the metrics show that Indianapolis has been far more successful than the rest of the state.

 Indianapolis has been responsible for the lion’s share of state population growth.

Since 2000, the Indy metro area has grown by 35%, the City of Indianapolis by 12%, and the whole rest of the state by 2.1%. The City of Indianapolis saw more population growth this century than the 80 non-Indy metro counties combined. So, whatever concern about crime, zoning or building design residents have about Indy, they are worse everywhere else. 

What about jobs?

Since 2000, the Indianapolis metro region has added some 154,000 jobs. Of those jobs, the City of Indianapolis can account for 18,000 new jobs over the same time period. Here’s the rub; over the same time period, all the rest of Indiana lost a whopping 151,000 jobs. 

Speaking of economic impact, Hicks tells us that, annually, residents of Marion County send a net of more than $500 per person in tax revenues to residents of the rest of the state.

All told, 20 Hoosier counties pay more taxes to the state than they receive in tax revenues from the state. Five of those are in the Indianapolis metro area. So, just to summarize it clearly, Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis region as a whole, are growing leaps and bounds faster than the rest of the state. At the same time, they bear a greater state tax burden, of which a significant share is sent to other counties. They get far less back in tax dollars than they spend.

In the World’s Worst Legislature–coming to citizens courtesy of extreme gerrymandering–resentful representatives of dwindling rural areas are intent upon killing the goose that sends them the golden eggs.


  1. As a point of clarification, I would note relevant facts about Russiaville, on a rural route of which my parents’ farm, Sunnybrook, was located. My high school was about two miles from Russiaville. 1) It is not pronounced “Russia,” as in Vlad Putin’s country. Some, who believe they have an inside track on Hoosier pronunciations, jump on this and say: “It’s ROOSHaville.” Sadly, this pronunciation also is incorrect. Purists, or those who have lived there for longer than anyone cares to remember or admit, pronounce it: “ROOSHEEville.” 2) The town is not without its artistic ironies, as “College Street” was spelled incorrectly by the person in charge of sign painting long ago. The last time I looked it was “Collage Street.” 3) The school in Russiaville – the former Russiaville High School that became Russiaville Elementary after area schools consolidated into Western High School but then was blown away with much of the rest of the town and many beautiful trees in the Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1965 – had as a nickname “Cossacks,” but this statement is based on hearsay. I can say that I do not recall anyone of Russian lineage in the area when I grew up, although someone might have been a deeply-placed “sleeper” for the KGB. 3) In true Hoosier fashion, the story is that “Russiaville” was bastardized in pronunciation from “Russellville.” 4) In any event, the greatest wisdom was dispensed by old farmers who hung out at the grain elevator. One day in 1970, after they had exhausted their discussions of existentialism, quantum physics, and whether infusions of cash into the economy had a net benefit, as per Keynes, one gentleman pronounced, in a slow Hoosier twang, “I don’t know. … I just don’t know.” Another gentleman said, “I know what you mean.”

  2. Is the IndyStar still the newspaper down there in Indy?

    I had many discussions on Twitter with former IndyStar reporters, which always ended in me getting blocked by them. I don’t think any of them are still with the newspaper.

    Granted, a government reporter’s job was to gather interviews with the government officials. If you asked the officials a tough question or question their responses, that was the last time you got an interview. Our government officials are not accountable to the people. Period.

    During the state’s theft of Muncie Community’s schools, I asked a fluff question to one of the principal lawmakers behind the coup, and his propaganda clerk gladly replied to my email. My follow-up question was just a little more challenging. No response. I sent another. No response.

    That’s not a democracy, nor is it a democratic republic. There is no accountability to the people, and the Fourth Estate has become self-neutered/powerless, which is why our global ranking for a free press is 45th. The UK is 35th.

    What does that tell you about the condition of our local/state/federal governments?

    And, speaking horrible legislation, keep an eye on Senator Messmer from Jasper, or the southwestern edge of Indiana amidst the mercury bellowing super coal-burning stacks causing summer Ozone alerts all the way to East Central Indiana. He’s captured by all the big-time polluters of Indiana. The polluters hate “librals.”

  3. Our State Legislation is an embarrassment. Presently, there are numerous dangerous gun bills proposed in the House and Senate. There are SEVEN permitless carry bills proposed in the House and SB 199 in the Senate which is an expansion of Indiana’s Stand Your Ground Bill. HB 1369 is the frontrunner for permitless carry because of the name behind the bill. It was authored by Rep Smaltz. SB 199 is a racist bill – a reaction to BLM and the incident in Missouri when two attorneys flashed guns at peaceful people walking in the street in front of their mansion. I have more information about both bills and why everyone should call their legislators and tell them to vote NO on both bills. HB 1369 will most likely get a vote on Monday morning at 11:30 am. You may email me at for more information. During the pandemic and so many people suffering and in need of support, what do our legislators do? They decide to focus on loosening Indiana’s gun laws and act like NRA supporters on steroids. After yesterday, I know everyone is exhausted and disgusted, but there is still so much work to be done in Indiana, and we must keep trying.

  4. Dear Hoosiers,

    When you’re feeling down in the mouth about your legislature, lift your head and eyes and behold, among other similar places, Texas. Texans have an element of secession in their legislature. And when you finish mopping up the vomit from learning about that collection of idiots, look north to Wisconsin, then southwest to Arizona, then back east to Tennessee. You’ll find equally corrupt, incompetent and mindless Republican legislatures there too.

    But there’s hope. Georgia’s Republicans just got bitch-slapped by the voters. Oh. Right. The voters… Wisconsin voters cast more ballots for Democrats than Republicans, but due to the fascist gerrymandering efforts of their Republican party, Republicans dominate their legislature. I hear there is a movement there to upend all of that in Wisconsin.

    Infamously, every state legislature dominated by Republicans can be lumped into the puppy pile of incompetence, self-service and utter vote-for-hire crooks, aka Republicans.

    Hey! It’s just February. It’s Valentine’s Day. Sally forth and love a Democrat.

  5. If the old saying, “money is power” Is true, perhaps boycotting paying state money will change legislature’s attitude.
    Metro-Indy residents boycott purchase of all Lottery tickets. Indy residents pay their state taxes by check made payable to State of Indiana AND City of Indianapolis. And more.

  6. The Republicans seem to believe that they rule by divine right. They have no problem trying to overthrow an election that doesn’t go their way. They treat every action of any duly elected Democratic government as an affront to their rights to do what they darn well please, but they remain obsequious toadies to their strong man, regardless of what he says or does. As Dana Milbank wrote, “The other 43 Republicans, some of whom, like McConnell, feebly denounced Trump’s conduct even as they acquitted him, now have the cowardly distinction of licking the boots of the man who left them to die.”

  7. I naively believed I was living in a democracy. Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, by Ann Case and Angus Deaton, Princeton University Press, 2020, clarifies severe threats in our current reality. The rich are in charge. Hopefully the current administration and those who care can make some progress. (And gerrymandering has got to go.)

  8. As a student at Wabash College in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I attended an on-campus lecture presented by then Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar in which he extolled the virtues of the state’s UniGov legislation that soon would allow, with the exception of a few excluded municipalities, the unification of city and county governments within Marion County. While the benefits of UniGov have become evident over the years, the unspoken rationale, at the time, for UniGov was to keep Indianapolis under the political control of the Republican Party by enabling white, conservative voters to once again dominate the politics of the capital city by essentially disenfranchising a minority that had neither the financial means to move to the white suburbs nor the skin pigmentation to make them welcome. Now that Democrats of all colors and backgrounds once again dominate Indianapolis politics, and the new frontier of white suburbia has become the affluent “donut” counties just beyond the Marion County line, Republicans at the state level are once again flexing their muscles to exert state-wide Republican control over the functions of Indianapolis city government. I directly questioned Mayor Lugar during that Wabash College lecture about what appeared to many critics to be little more than a cynical power grab. I don’t recall his answer, not that it matters, but what we are now seeing from the General Assembly is the next iteration of political cynicism from Statehouse Republican politicians whose suburban and rural arrogance, whose provincial community of interests in the snarky guise of “Hoosier common sense,” continually lead them to consolidate the power needed to circumvent self-determination and community-building and to thwart the progress of the urban center that is the engine of Indiana’s economic prosperity.

  9. When it comes to saving the ecosystems of Indiana and reducing gun violence, Republicans are asleep the wheel. Even if far right radicals attacked the state capital, they would not put in effective gun regulation.

    Even if some environmenalists showed them the financial cost in detail of what poor policies to protect Indiana’s ecosystems would cost our state in the long run, they would refuse to listen because they cannot take the long view. They cannot take the long view because of the corporate lobbyists who line their pockets. Corporations are not taking the long view either. They simply look at their quarterly profits. And that is simply not sustainable.

    If rural Indiana wanted to be innovative, they would start by looking at sustainable farming practices that would reduce global warming. If they took the long view, they would see that over time such practices would actually increase their profits. They would look at geothermal, wind, and solar sources of energy that can withstand the capricous weather conditions.

    The Republicans in Indiana are obviously more interested in retaining power for the short run instead of creating bills and policies that will help the citizens in the long run.

  10. This is a comment on the Republicans (I used to be one) not only in the Indiana legislature but also in Congress. Why do they continue to behave like battered women going back to their abuser?

  11. Hey Vern,
    You are right about Arizona’s super-majority Republican legislature. The Republican Senate Majority Leader is still threatening to have the Maricopa (Phoenix Metro) Board of Supervisors arrested and jailed because they have resisted her efforts to obtain all the ballots and voting machines used in the election for the alleged purpose of having them examined by some “independent” firm (which just so happens to have ties to Trump and the Republican Party). Since all good Arizonians would have voted for Trump, the machines and election had to be rigged. Of course, her original intention, which she even admits, was she intended to give them to Trump’s so-called attorneys to try to use to overturn the election — fortunately now too late.

    Oh, if that’s not enough, how about a bill introduced by a Republican Senator that would allow the Legislature to overturn the results of an election when it didn’t agree with the results? That folks is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Proposed laws that would make it illegal to prohibit anyone from carrying a gun into any public building. And just as in Indiana, the Legislature is always trying to pass laws prohibiting what local government in Pima County and Tucson can do. Wonder why? Pima County and Tucson are reliably Blue. It’s a never ending s**t storm.

  12. Hoosiers certainly have a right to claim the title of the world’s worst legislature, I accept that, but has the jury considered the US Senate in the competition?

    Yesterday McConnell, who single-handedly created the situation that he then claimed made it impossible to hold ex-President Trump in any way accountable to the US government, yesterday stepped up to the plate and, reciting the royal requiem of the Republicans, bunted to the court systems to do what Republican Senators, loyalists to the last, didn’t want to.

    It is expected that puts him in competition for Coward of the Year and the Senate as the most inept legislature on the planet.

    Sorry, Indiana Legislature. You may be proud of your incompetence, it is genuinely and truly astounding, but the jury believes not as completely devoid of even minimal responsibility compared to the big league US Senate.

  13. It seems that Indiana is indeed a prototype for our nation with respect to the outsized political power that keeps accruing to rural areas. One recent estimate is that following the 2040 census the 35 least populous states will account for only 30 percent of our population yet will then elect 70 percent of the U.S. Senate.

    Combine that with rural dominated state legislatures continuing to gerrymander U.S. congressional districts and you have a double whammy against urban voters.

  14. Mark Small–I enjoyed your post today about Russiaville. Many years ago we lived in Marion, Indiana and passed through the town occasionally. The only acquaintances I ever made of people who lived there were a couple of transplants, and I don’t recall ever hearing them say the name of the town. But I learned its pronunciation as “ROOSHA-ville” as most people said it.
    “I don’t know. … I just don’t know.” Another gentleman said, “I know what you mean.”
    Yup, Hoosier wisdom just doesn’t get any better!

  15. First, happy Valentine’s Day from someone who lives 1 mile South of the metropolis of Valentine, Indiana where, before its post office was closed many years ago, people drove far and wide to drop off their valentine cards to be postmarked there.

    Second, thanks go to Mark Small for his short history of Russiaville – that was all new news to me. Also to Vernon Turner, who rightly pointed out that Indiana’s legislature, as bad as it is, might not even crack the top five worst state legislatures in America. I would also argue that it’s likely better than those of Belarus and Azerbaijan. Last, to John Street, for reminding us that the campaign of conservative white people to dominate racially-diverse Indy/Marion Co goes WAY WAY back.

    I struggle with the author’s characterization of the assault on Indy as a rural vs. urban conflict.  The real problem is Marion County  vs The Donut Counties and it’s not accurate to describe those counties as “rural”. The Census Bureau defines rural as any population or housing that is NOT in an urban area – and all of the counties included in the Indy MSA are urban areas. Nor is it appropriate for the author to conflate the economic performance of Indy/Marion Co with the greater Indianapolis Metropolitan Statistical Area. But Dr. Hick’s is correct in assailing the General Assembly’s damaging legislation because it impacts not just Indy proper but the entire region and therefore the state.

    I don’t know where the jobs data comes from but a more general comparison of economic activity between political areas is gross domestic product. I’m using numbers from the St. Louis Federal Reserve (FRED) and it shows that while the GDP of the Indianapolis Statistical Metro Area has grown by 97% from 2001 to 2019, Marion County has only grown by 80.1%. This means Indy/Marion Co’s contributions to GDP are shrinking in relation to not only the Indy SMA but the state as a whole. The GDP of the donut counties for the same period has grown by 142.6%, and the state’s GDP by 85% over the same period. The Indy MSA’s share of total state GDP has grown from 35% to 38%, formidable and very important to the state’s health but Indy is not to Indiana as Chicago is to Illinois, where its GDP accounts for 80% of the state’s GDP, a ratio that has been stable over the period 2001-2019.

    So enough statistics, what about the politics? In addition to the city of Indy/Marion Co, there are many more cities and towns in the MSA: 1 city with a population in excess of 100,000 (Carmel), 4 cities with pop. of 50,000-100,000, 14 municipalities with pop. of 10,000-50,000 and 37 municipalities with pop. 1,0000-5,000.

    By my count, there are 9 state senators who represent citizens of Indy/Marion but the District’s of only 4 of them are exclusively inside the borders – five are shared by residents of donut  counties. And there are 16 representatives for Indy/Marion and the boundaries of 13 of those districts lie within its borders (gerrymandering is harder in more densely populated areas). But here’s the real kicker: the donut counties have 20 representatives, and district boundaries of all but 3 of them lie inside donut county boundaries.  All those cities and towns I mentioned above? All FIFTY-TWO of them? They pack a LOT of political power. And they don’t want Indy/Marion Co to dominate the political agenda for the region nor the state. 

    This is a political struggle for power between Indy/Marion Co vs The Donut Counties.  And we’re cheering for you Indy! 

  16. Apparently the founders didn’t give much thought to misrepresentation in the Senate that some of the states and incoming territories to state status presented. Their vision of the Senate as an extension of the English House of Lords and control by way of appointment by state legislatures was, I suppose, thought to be adequate by Madison, who was otherwise a fierce advocate of and for the House of Representatives (note the legislative numero uno Article he penned),copied after the English House of Commons.

    The Senate only became a popularly-elected house of congress in the 20th century when, after there was so much graft and corruption in the appointing legislatures that we decided to subject them to popular vote, but when, as recently as we saw just yesterday, the graft and corruption (and dereliction of duty) continue without letup.

    So what to do? See HR1, perhaps the most meaningful piece of prospective legislation before the senate since the Social Security Act of 1935, and one held up by the senate’s minority leader, who just yesterday said that Trump was guilty but voted to do nothing about it, when his status and influence might have swung a 2/3s vote in favor of finding Trump guilty, as the latter was and is, saved only by a constitutional requirement of a 2/3s vote, a Constitution he, ironically, unleashed his murderous horde to scrap at the capitol insurrection.

    Perhaps we Democrats need to mount a 50-state campaign to retake a majority of the state houses and then return the pre-twentieth century rule of choosing senators to their legislatures. Forget the anxiety fostered by those who rely on the hopelessness of the urban-rural divide for inaction. We say we are a Big Tent party, so let’s include the farmers and others who live the rural lives via compromise and political innovation. Can’t be done? How do we know? Edison didn’t know that tungsten would work, either, until he tried it.

  17. One of the problems that Indpls. has is that there are a lot of people whose jobs are located in Metro Indpls. ,but they commute outside & pay their taxes where they live. It seems a commuter tax would help pay for their use of our streets & facilities here while they earn their livings, but their tax dollars go back to the outside communities. It seems this set-up is unsustainable with deleterious effects on the city’s infrastructure. Wish our urban votes counted for more, and rural legislatures had more respect for the unique diversity & needs of this Capitol City.

  18. I researched the issue once and found out, as I had suspected, that every state thinks its legislature is the “worst.” I guarantee you Indiana’s legislature is no “worse” than most other states.

  19. Sheila, they don’t care if they kill the goose that laid the golden egg! Because they’ll just siphon the money off of the rest of the donor States states like California and Massachusetts and Illinois and New York amongst others, which give the federal government much more than they receive from it. Unfortunately I’m not looking at my posts from years past with the information, but it’s easy to find!

    The system of government that they’re tearing down is what keeps them afloat! It’s kind of like The Three stooges drilling ” water leter outers” in the bottom of the life boat that they’re in, in the middle of lake michigan!

  20. Kathy’s idea of Commuter Tax can be seen in many of the large Metro Cities of the East. This would assist in Metro Indy in upkeep of its infrastructure, where those who are paying no taxes obtain their income. This would perhaps make up for some of the Tax Incentives the State and Metro Area extends to Companies who choose to Headquarter in the City.

    If the State Legislature takes over control of cities services, they will decimate any advantage to those of us who live in the cities. They do no seem to have the experience or knowledge to understand Urbanites. This would probably force me to seriously consider moving away from my Hometown to which I returned several years ago. We would Never get our Potholes Filled!!!!

    There seems to have long been what appears to be envy from those in the outskirts of better conditions those in the cities seem to benefit from. It is about scarcity thinking and lack of appreciation for what one already has. A pretty self-orientated mind set, which we have seen examples of in other governments situations the last few years.

  21. John Street, Thanks for bringing up the Uni-Gov history. Yes that was a Republican power grab and it worked for some 40 years, until demographics and voter education changed the dynamic and so a few years ago, the Republican controlled city county council eliminated the 4 at-large seats in an effort to keep control. Now Democrats have a supermajority on the city council.

    An Indy Star opinion writer suggested the other day that the Democrat mayor should switch parties. He is a very middle of the road, make no waves kind of guy, but the reasoning was the state legislature would no longer have a punching boy.

    Sheila mentioned the zoning changes. The actual proposal is to create 9 township zoning boards. Indiana already has a large number of counties (92), with most of them 20 miles x 20 miles, and each county has roughly 9 townships. I say if township zoning boards are good enough for Indianapolis, then why not the rest of the state!

    Honestly, I think what we are seeing at work is the new QOP party platform policy of “Owning the Libs”. There seems to be no other reason to keep taking pot shots at the states economic engine. Indy accounts for 25% of the states GDP, and the Metro counties (including Indy) make up 40%.

  22. Probably not legal but wouldn’t it be nice if we – Marion County – could secede from Indiana and establish our own state? Chicago and many other big cities could do the same thing. Viola! Home rule AND all of the sudden the HUGE advantage the rural red states have in the Senate would disappear. What a lovely daydream! No Mike Braun or Todd Young being our senator. Mitch McConnell losing even more power. Ahhh, a girl can wish, can’t she?

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