What’s The Matter With Indiana?

Remember Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas? Unfortunately, it’s not just Kansas. Indiana is governed by Republicans who refuse to believe science–and for that matter, routinely reject any reality inconsistent with an ideology firmly grounded in the 1950s.

Most recently, our embarrassing and self-aggrandizing Attorney General joined the state with others suing the Biden Administration for confronting the threat of climate change.The states we are joining are hardly economic powerhouses: Missouri, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. (A recent study out of Yale describes “low road states” like these as those laboring under  legacies of “conservative governance,” characterized by lower minimum wages, anti-union policies, and underfunded education and infrastructure.)

The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court in Missouri as a response to President Joe Biden’s sweeping environmental protection order called “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”

Biden signed the order into action Jan. 20. It set in motion the reversal of a bevy of Trump administration-era policies that promoted economic growth over environmental regulations.

The lawsuit is a stark example of the refusal of far too many lawmakers in too many states to admit that climate change is real, and that it poses an existential threat to civilization–a threat that is daily becoming harder to ignore. It’s hard to know whether the group of Attorneys General who are participating in this lawsuit are truly among the “deniers” or simply pandering to state populations unwilling to confront reality.

It isn’t just our current, unfortunate Attorney General. This year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly offers evidence–if any was needed–that our lawmakers have absolutely no interest in America’s environment, or even in combatting their own state’s high levels of pollution.

Committees have been called the “workhorses” of the Indiana General Assembly, the places where Hoosiers can testify on bills and lawmakers can hash out their differences.

But one committee has been missing in action this year.

The House Environmental Affairs Committee has not met a single time. Not because it didn’t have any legislation assigned to it. Thirteen bills were filed, many dealing with weighty topics.

One would have required preschool and daycare facilities to test for lead and address any high levels that are found. One would have prohibited utilities from keeping contaminating coal ash in unlined ponds where it pollutes groundwater. One would have limited the amount of toxins known as “forever chemicals” in drinking water.

But since the deadline to hear bills from the House has now passed, all of them died without any consideration. And while it’s common for bills to die in committee — most do — it’s unusual for a committee not to meet at all.

As the linked article notes, lawmakers have found time to advance bills making popcorn the official state snack, providing protections for children’s lemonade stands and preventing Indianapolis from changing its name. They just couldn’t be bothered to address the state’s high levels of pollution.

According to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, using data from 2019, the most recent, Indiana releases more chemicals and pollutants per square mile compared to any other state. And those releases have health implications: EPA data also shows that pollution poses a higher risk to public health in Indiana than in most other states.

If there is one characteristic shared by Indiana’s GOP lawmakers, it is willful ignorance.

Gerrymandering explains why the state’s voters continue to install super-majorities of the retrograde, but there are other reasons so many Hoosiers have only the dimmest understanding of science, economics or the operation of government, including the allocation of governmental authority under federalism. Michael Hicks– director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University–recently pinned Indiana’s multiple problems on lawmakers’ refusal to adequately support education.

Indiana is failing at the single most important thing the state does to ensure a growing economy: educate our children and young adults. Our “Mississippi Strategy” of low taxes, declining educational attainment and huge tax incentives to businesses is finally having an effect. It is precisely what an economic model would predict; declining relative wages, declining productivity and the need to offer even larger incentives to lure employers into our state. That isn’t a strategy any Hoosier should be proud of supporting. But, it is certainly having an effect.

It sure is. What was the lyric in that great Tom Lehrer song about the environment? “Don’t drink the water and don’t breath the air.”


  1. It is ironic that Indiana, many other states, and Russia seem to be in the same place environmentally.

    We can’t handle the truth!

    On March 8, Russian hockey superstars held a match on Siberia’s freezing Lake Baikal to raise climate change awareness. … While the Russian government sponsored the match, it has also recently rolled back environmental regulations protecting the lake’s already at-risk ecosystem

    Russia’s hockey greats play ‘last game’ for a threatened environment …

  2. Has any article in a neutral magazine (Golf Digest, Sports Illustrated) pointed out that science developed the quality of grass, elasticity in the swim suits, mix of gas in boat motors, engines in cars, weighted golf clubs, not to mention wicking clothing, etc?? Turn in your cell phones, glasses, roll up the asphalt roads, snuff out the lights, gas stoves, alarm systems, turn in computers and ‘Alexis’.

  3. In the Fall of 1978, when I moved to Indiana to teach at IUPUI, I attended a meeting of the state teachers association (ISTA). One of the talks I went to was supposed to be by a Biology teacher who claimed to have a way to introduce Creationism into the curriculum. “A two-system model” was the talk’s title. Well, she “called in sick,” but arranged for a substitute to give the talk. The guy was a Creationist, and that was all he talked about. But what horrified me was that from time to time, some of the people in the audience said “Amen.” These were Biology teachers. I can’t imagine any of them teaching science. I complained to ISTA about the talk, and heard back that the organization was tightening its procedures for “substitutes.”

    That was then, but now there are people in the legislature who do the equivalent of saying “Amen” when the climate-change deniers pooh-pooh climate science. In addition to being scientifically illiterate, they are ignoring the ethical problem of condemning their grandchildren to living under conditions that they would not want to be subjected to. They cannot see any farther than what the bat-shit crazy commentators on conservative “news” stations spout.

  4. Indiana isn’t the only red state with Republican morons in charge, as stated. Speaking of law suits: The AG of Texas, the lizard-like Ken Paxton, is now suing the mayors of Texas cities for ignoring Abbott’s disgraceful decision to eliminate mask mandates and crowd control.

    I wonder how he will explain the coming COVID surge from his equally mindless constituents. Oh. Right. Blame it on Obama.

    Republicans continue to display themselves as being fundamentally deficient to do anything but lie, cheat and steal no matter where they are.

  5. For a political party committed to smaller budgets, low taxes, etc… I am surprised our Attorney General (and the larger state Republican organization) is only too quick to fritter away public money on such a frivolous suit. Typical hegemony from an entrenched party concerned only with pleasing those who fund their campaigns at the expense of the common Hoosier.

  6. If creationism is taught as a science; why are creationists not asking why the creator has created these climate problems? This past, or possibly current, Indiana winter is a good example of weather change; but maybe they don’t make the connection of climate being weather and vice versa. They have lost a connection to reality somewhere along the way.

    That classic movie, “Inherit The Wind” will be on the TCM channel at noon this Saturday; time to watch it again. You will learn we haven’t progressed very far from the Tennessee Scope’s Monkey Trial in the 1920s when a teacher was arrested for teaching evolution as science. Ignoring the science of Climate Change and Global Warming as cause-and-effect for 100 years has brought us to “don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air” globally. Indiana has long been a major violator of this reality.

  7. “Climate denier” is a lazy trope lobbed at Republican lawmakers and their ignorant followers, especially in Indiana and other coal-based states run by the Koch-run American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It’s funny that you mention Michael Hicks from Ball State, who is also Koched-up.

    These lawmakers are being paid to refute all environmental regulation, so IDEM is the most corrupt department within our state. Has been for decades. Indiana is always listed as the Top Five Dirtiest States.

    We also have four super coal-burning plants in this state, two more than any other state in the union. Southern Indiana is known as asthma-alley for what it does to the elderly and young.

    Because the Koch’s invest in universities like Ball State and use mouthpieces like Mike Hicks on Inside Indiana Business and Gannett newspapers, people assume it’s all legitimate. They own think-tanks that produce anti-environment papers—shills for hire. The more credentials they have, the better. Our professors even legitimize themselves using the Ball family credentials.

    The sycophants in our community soak it up, and it looks great when they write books or get quoted in the newspaper or TV. Meanwhile, the Ball Family of five engineered racism in East Central Indiana and won’t own it and won’t offer reparations to the black families they screwed for generations.

    On Twitter yesterday, Nigel Farrage was kissing the asses of the Royals claiming they’ve done more for people of color than anyone he could think of following Harry and Meghan’s comments about Royal racism. Lots of tweets followed with maps of Africa and the Middle East to remind Nigel about their history.

    Americans are easily duped…especially “low-roaders.”

  8. “What’s the matter with Indiana?”
    In my lifetime the answer to that question can be answered by the example of my family. Of my six siblings four took their degrees and talents and fled to either the east coast or the west coast where they were greatly welcomed and rewarded for their effort. That is what happened to Indiana and continues to happen. Sad.

  9. Indiana needs a Stacey Abrams to organize a ground game and take back the government.

  10. NoDak is a harbor for enviromental issues. when the oil,and gas boom hit the road to glory,only the publically visable spills,and releases,explosions,were ever mentioned. few Native American lands that surround some of the oil producing ground,kept a keen eye on the issues,and pubicized them. it spawned a growth of enviromental compaies ready to clean up the issues. this supported the oil companies by providing them with answers when the shit hit the fan. the growth of the clean up industry grew,and remains. no defence here,to the fossil fuels, it made a new industry grow,and become common place. unforunatly,who keeps them alive between issues?
    a big question was,why did it happen in the first place? i worked this area hauling crude in tanker from the well sites,many of those site were never completed before they sent trucks in to haul the crude out.i delt with pipelines from,storage tanks that leaked,and were never set up to load the oil,if i spilled any amount,my company was responsable for the clean up, if ot was the fault of the lease operator,or,the oil company who contracted the oil, it was always,someone elses fault.and theynwould use the courts to defend the issue. i managed to leave this employment because i refused to open a tank because of the pipeline to the trucks loading area. this wasnt once,but weekly.i lost my job because my company and the whoevers demanded we load it,and dont ask questions.. even NPR here ignored spills and blow outs,and gets support, as they say,from enviromantally resposable companies,i.e coal and oil.. i donate to other nprs,..if your wondering about line 3 of the keystone,theres a deal here beyond the tar sands shipments, tar sand cant be pumped thru a pipeline,it will freeze,hense,the deal is,using bakken grade light oil,mixed,and its not taxed because its a vehicle to ship. the agreemenet is with canada,and its next to free,to whoever buys it on the final destination.all in good faith yaknow…

  11. I haven’t lived in Indiana since 1985. But my suspicion is that like other states, the rural areas are shrinking and metro areas are growing. That is what has happened in MN where I live now. As a result, 60% of the states voters live in the Twin Cities metro area. A Republican has not won a statewide election in MN for 14 years. My hope is that at some point the urban areas will grow enough that Republicans won’t be able to win statewide office. When that happens, Republicans will no longer be able to gerrymander the legislature because the governor will veto it. And when that happens Republicans will end up where they deserve — on the ash heap of history

  12. With so many brilliant scientists and other truth tellers in Indiana, it is embarrassing and tragic that the ignorant who have no concern for the future health of the state, the planet, and their own children are in charge.

  13. Peggy, we do have a Stacey Abrams in Indiana. It is called HOPE—Hoosiers Organized People Energized. Their goal is to register more voters before 2022 elections. They have a website. Check it out.

  14. One year ago today the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. Trump of course famously blamed China and for Republicans blaming is considered a solution. There, that’s been taken care of, now let’s all get back to work making the wealthy wealthier.

    The same is happening in our dumping grounds for all of the fossil fuels we burn once we harvest only the energy from them. It turns out that we can produce and dump all of that waste much faster than nature can digest it and there are consequences. Remember consequences when you were a kid? They were often painful reminders of gravity and momentum and other natural reactions. There is one difference though. Those consequences were immediate and temporary. Global warming is delayed by decades and in our time scale darn near permanent. Rather than being an attack on our body though it’s an attack on the civilization that we’ve come to increasingly rely on for everything as we add the final 50% to our population despite earth’s inability to provide for our comfort and safety. We ignore consequences at our peril.

    Republicans blame others, like in this case, scientists. There, that’s been taken care of, now let’s all get back to work making the wealthy wealthier.

  15. This isn’t hard to understand at all. Politicians cater to the beliefs and desires of their constituency. They then act in a way that says to their supporters, I am with you. The issue then is the education of the voters.

  16. Peggy/Connie: We have our Stacey. She is endowed with incredible experience, brain power and energy and is now retired and has nothing else to do, so I hereby nominate Professor Sheila S. Kennedy for the honor – and if she declines the offer let’s draft her – and if she resists the draft let’s have her lead a march on the state house this summer whether the legislature is in session or not.

    While awaiting her response, I have a question > Are the bills before the Indiana legislature printed in English, or hieroglyphics? And speaking of Tom Lehrer, I will never forget his statement on the ultimate in environmental matters (nuclear holocaust) with his “We will all go together when we go, every Hottentot and every Eskimo. . .” What we are doing and not doing now is nothing more than environmental suicide in slow motion – but accelerating. . .

  17. It is simply tragic that conservative Christians can’t see that the earth is our inheritance from our creator and that many of us are acting like the “prodigal son.” I suspect the state’s AG is one of them.

    I think some corporations are starting to wake up to the fact that they need to think more about sustainability. i e GM is going electric with cars made by Chevrolet. The efforts to preserve ecosystems will probably come from corporates who are not part of the fossil fuel industry. Some of them are taking the long view out of concern for their bottom line.

    We need to get rid of the federal subsidies that support the fossil fuel industries. I would guess they are contributing to conservatives running for office in Indiana. This, in turn, keeps elected officials with supporting subsidies for green infrastructure. I pay more in taxes because I have a hybrid car.

    It is unfortunate that our state is stuck in the 40’s and 50’s. We need sustainable farming practices. If Monsanto and other agribusinesses took the lead, farmers would be forced to look at sustainable ways to preserve the soil. Plowing destroys top soil. Unfortunately, Monsanto is a company that cares little about ethics in their busines models. They prefer to get sued as part of the price of doing business.

    The other half of the problem is consumptive consumers. If everyone took up the practice of voluntary simplicity, corporates would be forced to look at sustainable business models. We are addicted to convenient technologies that allow us to be couch potatoes(yours truly included). It’s raining. I think I will curl up with a good book and escape all the madness by going into some other crazy world.

  18. The climate has been changing for 4.5 billion years of the planet. I don’t know if those skeptics actually deny that indisputable fact so much as they question how much of that change is due to human activity as opposed to other factors and whether any of the proposed draconian changes to our economy (such as doubling of our power bills) to address climate change would actually accomplish anything more than keeping the planet a few fractions of a degree cooler. I think the issue is a lot more complicated than how it is being portrayed.

  19. In 1966, I left my home in Chicago to attend college in Indiana, I was told then that Indiana was “the Mississippi of the Midwest” — a name that has stuck in my mind for all these years. Lately, I’ve heard Indiana described as “the Confederacy’s middle finger” — also appropriate. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a dream, living in a foreign country, then I wake up and find that it’s all, sadly, true.

  20. It was a confusing day for me. One of the front page stories in the Indy Star was that the Indiana house passed a bill that would restrict counties from regulating wind and solar farms and create state level regulations. It had a lot of rural people up in arms for a change. Part of my confusion is that it passed in the house, but it had bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. The other part of my confusion is that Republican lawmakers seemed to turn on their very rural base, but this is the base that voted for lawmakers that when Republicans had a platform, were “Pro-business”, so it should not have surprised me or them. The other part of me was confused because this looked like Republican lawmakers were embracing clean energy and maybe acknowledging climate change was real. The last part of my confusion was this was counter to all of the anti-city “own the libs” legislation they had been putting forth all year.

    All of the confusion cleared up when I read the comments on the article and somebody had pointed out that the wind and solar energy interests had combined lobbying efforts and dollars to attack the problem of shifting regulations are the state level, with what I assume were political contributions. I will have to say that I am sure shifting county by county regulations made it hard to do business, and that more uniform regulation makes sense and more green energy is good for Indiana, but I also don’t live near a 600’ tall wind turbine to know if they should be more closely regulated.

    On a side note: after I obtained the email address of the Indiana AG director of communications, and complained about not being able to contact the AG to share my opinion on his antics, she pointed out that the AG does have a way to contact him, but it was hidden on the AG’s “About” page, and not the “Contact Us” page, but they would look into this. Yesterday when I went the the AG “Contact Us” page, it now has an option to share your opinion with the Indiana AG. It is no longer hidden on the “About” page. Small victories.

  21. Peggy and Connie, just what i had been thinking, as well. If Sheila will put on Stacy’s suit, and march of you, that would be wonderful, too.
    My phrase for the particular form of idiocy you see in Indiana, and elsewhere, is “Insistent, aggressive, ignorance.” Living in Florida, as I do now, I see the same thing.

  22. There is nothing wrong with Indiana that an election won’t cure. It isn’t rural vs urban. It’s the gerrymandered Republican party that is spreading a disease that has infected the entire country. The disease is an ideological concern for institutions, not people. Unfortunately, this ideology is spread by other minority groups that also represent institutions and not people in those states which they control thru gerrymandering to keeps people’s real concerns outside the places where governmental decisions are made.

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