For Goodness Sakes, Indiana!

A couple of years ago, Indiana geniuses came up with the motto “Honest to goodness, Indiana!” After reading this scorching–and utterly accurate–description of what passes for governing in my state, I think that motto should be “For goodness sakes, Indiana!”

The article by Aaron Wren in Governing  magazine looked at the traditional Red state tactics that brought disaster to Kansas and failed to improve economies in Red states generally. When Wren focused on Indiana, he laid out the state’s current status and the roots of our declining wellbeing.

Or look at Indiana. It has had Republican governors since 2005 and full Republican control of the state for over a decade. Its leadership loves to boast that its growth rate in population and jobs beats surrounding states, but that’s a low hurdle to jump. In reality, most of Indiana is stagnating or declining. Over half of the state’s counties are losing population, and the forecast for the prime working age population is grim: Virtually the entire state is projected to have a declining workforce in coming years. Indiana’s per capita income is only 86.2 percent of the national average, and that’s lower than it was when the GOP took over the governorship and the Legislature. Under Republican management, the state started out poor and got even poorer.

Why these poor results in states with the full panoply of red state best practices? It’s because the entire philosophy of governance in Kansas, Indiana and quite a few other Republican states is based on a fundamentally mistaken view of progress. Rather than investing to build up the skills and enhance the well-being of their citizens, they engaged in a race down to the bottom as a strategy to attract corporations.

Wren doesn’t simply make an assertion–he provides examples.

When local media reported on the horrific situations faced by many local renters, Indianapolis responded by passing an ordinance that required landlords to provide tenants with a list of their rights– including the right to have “functional plumbing, safe wiring and heat in the winter.” Indiana’s legislature just overturned that ordinance, as part of the legislature’s ongoing refusal to respect local control, and–as Wren says–at the behest of the property owners’ lobby.

Indiana is a great place to be a slumlord, but not such a good place to be a citizen who rents.

The article points out that this example is just one of many.  The state’s nursing home industry has so many negatives, it has become, Wren says, “a giant scam.” He recounts how hospitals in the state used ownership of nursing facilities to overbill Medicare and siphon over a billion dollars from those homes. The money was used to fund building projects and generous salaries for hospital executives. Meanwhile, Indiana ranks 48th in nursing home staffing, and more than 20 percent of nursing home patients with COVID died (the national rate is 13 percent).

How did our legislature respond? It passed a bill providing expansive immunity from liability for nursing homes and other businesses.

In addition to overturning tenant protections, Indiana has flirted with canceling a transit expansion in Indianapolis that has been supported overwhelmingly by the voters, and gutted a bill that would have required employers to provide basic accommodations to pregnant women. (Expectant mothers can now ask for accommodations, but employers don’t have to actually provide any). Perusing the list of bills working their way through the state Legislature, it’s hard to see much that could even plausibly make a material improvement in the life of Hoosier citizens.

Wren points out that the most important factor in attracting high-wage employers is the availability of a skilled labor force – talent. What he doesn’t mention is the Indiana legislature’s continuing assault on public education, and the negative effects of that assault on efforts to produce a skilled labor force. Instead, the Republicans who have dominated state government continue to siphon dollars from public schools in favor of private, mostly religious schools via the nation’s largest voucher program.

Aaron Wren is no bleeding-heart liberal. When he lived in Indianapolis, I knew him slightly, and followed his observations on local governance. He was pro-business in the better sense of that term, supportive of governance that created a business-friendly environment, but highly critical of the crony capitalism that continues to characterize Republican politics in Indiana.

So long as Indiana’s gerrymandered districts continue to weight rural votes over urban ones, we will continue to rank among the bottom of states in numerous categories, and we’ll continue to have what the late Harrison Ullmann called “the world’s worst legislature.”

For goodness sakes, Indiana!


  1. Some of well respected friends, who happen to be local Republicans, have heretofore held Aaron Wren us as brilliant! I wonder if that may change.

  2. Apparently the majority of Indiana voters are blissfully ignorant, or just prefer their current state of affairs; why else would they continue to vote for these incompetent people?

  3. There are many problems with the Indiana legislature, and I always enjoy it when you point them out because it agrees with my own observations. But, as one of my captains pointed out to me early on in my career as a member of the Indianapolis Police Department, “don’t bring me a problem unless you have a solution for me to consider”. So, solutions, please. We need new ideas to bring Indiana into the 21st Century.

  4. Because they believe their lies and because these politicians spout rhetoric designed to make their rural and conservative constituents feel like they are part of the same cultural team, Linda. And because Dems, especially in Indiana don’t have a clue about how to counteract that and build a team that includes center and moderately conservative voters.

  5. We need solutions like New York state leaving a governor in office who literally sent 15000 to their Covid deaths

  6. James,

    I don’t have as much respect as you do for military leadership. Especially, based on their outcomes in the past 50+ years. I just read an article today from The Intercept discussing how the military is fleshing out “extremism.” It would seem many in the military also support those groups who ransacked the Capitol on 1/6. They are just now waking up to the fact that these beliefs were associated with domestic terrorism. In short, they don’t know who the enemy is in this situation.

    In Sheila’s post, I suspect all the conservatives who live in Indiana believe the enemy are Democrats, so keeping them out of power is winning.

    As Aaron is pointing out, and many of us have pointed out as well, collectively based on rankings and facts and evidence, we’re not winning. The “race to the bottom” is a metaphor for LOSING.

    So, even though their political party is winning, their lot in life is getting worse. In effect, they vote against their own self-interests. Much like our military pursuits, why do we keep entering affairs where we spend enormous sums of money, kill other people, kill ourselves, and end up with no favorable outcome?

    In a business sense, that would be a catastrophic failure. Why isn’t it so in the public realm?

    We’ve spent enormous sums of money on an incubator in Muncie that hasn’t produced a single company that hires a great number of people. If we measured its ROI, it would be grossly negative. Why do we keep wasting money on something that doesn’t benefit us?

    If you truly want a solution, I would strongly recommend doing the exact opposite of what we’ve been doing. If everything you’ve been doing for decades is causing you to lose ground, try doing the opposite. Otherwise, it’s insanity.

  7. I posted on Facebook about a proposed Indiana law supposedly targeting protesters. It was really trying to stifle free speech. Last I looked it was going to die in committee, just like all bad laws should do. When I told my brother (who lives in Florida) about it, he said they same thing was happening there. A few days later I read where the Florida Governor signed the new law into the books.

    Indiana may be on a race to the bottom, but there seem to be a lot of Red states that are going to provide stiff competition.

  8. I read the article which was very good, except for the absence of any mention of Indiana’s assault on public eduction (or “government schools”).

    But the author of the article is Aaron Renn, not Adam Wren. Is the former a nom de plume for the latter, complete with a stand-in picture and bio? Either way, Adam is a Hoosier treasure and I recommend his columns on Substack.

  9. The biggest force destroying Indiana is the Hoosier voter. If we voted Blue, if those working in and around education and their families voted Blue, if public employees voted Blue—-we could effect change!

  10. My preferred state motto is “WTF, Indiana”. We watched with the rest of the country as Trump and Pence brokered the Indiana based HVAC company Carrier $6 MILLION deal: “Before being sworn in to the presidency and vice presidency, the two put together a sweetheart deal of tax cuts to induce Carrier to keep jobs in Indiana, where Pence was governor. After negotiating the deal, Trump patted himself on the back and claimed he had saved jobs that would be shipped overseas.

    But Trump and Pence did not secure any agreement that would require Carrier to keep those jobs. Instead, they negotiated away revenue from the people of Indiana in exchange for a few days of headlines. The mainstream press unfortunately played along with Trump’s game, and Carrier has now shown how much it played Trump and Pence for absolute suckers.”

    Within three months the majority of Carrier jobs were gone; the mainstream press unfortunately played down the news reports from representatives of the Mexican city Carrier was moving to as they tried to STOP the deal. The income level of employees would barely cover daily necessities and would not improve the much needed help for their general economy. Trump and Pence got “good press” for brokering the deal which only Carrier benefited by and Indiana residents bore the weight of the profits to Carrier.

    Indiana’s Republican control continues to “Rather than investing to build up the skills and enhance the well-being of their citizens, they engaged in a race down to the bottom as a strategy to attract corporations.”

    “WTV, Indiana”?

  11. So the world’s worst legislature gets to keep its crown for yet another year. There are other red states that are breaking the speed barriers to replace you, though. In Florida we have the money and the numbers to show the world just how bad governance can be, when the people doing it don’t believe in it.

  12. The Indiana Legislature has over stepped it’s bounds according to Governor Holcomb.

    The ongoing power struggle between Gov. Eric Holcomb and the state legislature is now making its way to court.

    It’s the latest development in the rift between Holcomb and members of his own Republican party who have been perturbed by the governor’s extensive ability to declare a state of emergency and issues various mandates during the coronavirus pandemic.

    Lawmakers introduced House Bill 1123 this session, allowing the General Assembly to call themselves into an emergency 40-day session and distribute discretionary federal funds.

    But Holcomb vetoed the bill, calling it unconstitutional and an encroachment on the governor’s exclusive powers. Legislators overrode his veto, the second time they’ve done so during this legislative session.

    Now, Holcomb is suing over the measure, asking a Marion County judge to stop the new law over the objection of Attorney General Todd Rokita, who said he declined to authorize outside counsel to represent Holcomb in the case.

    The legislation was borne out of the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, during which Holcomb took criticism for limiting crowd capacities, shutting down non-essential businesses and requiring face masks.

    Holcomb took action based on the best science available, unlike some other GOP Governors who followed The Trumpet’s lead to take no action to protect it’s citizens. The Trumpet along with Pastor Pence took the approach of covering -up, and stone walling the true dimensions and dangers of Covid-19.

  13. Some solutions, James Todd? Stop gerrymandering. Get money out of politics. And if the proposed legislation comes from ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), then it is not allowed to be considered.

  14. Compare the failed Carrier deal with the Orr-Mutz attraction of Subaru. Now is a good time to read John Mutz’s new book. Indiana Republicans have not always raced to the bottom. Is there any hope for the current crop? I suspect not.

  15. It’s the same here in Arizona. Our Crazy Town Republican legislature introduces one repressive bill after another and many, including a draconian anti-abortion boll are signed into law by our robotic do nothing governor. All of this is the product of an organized 50 year plan to control local government from the ground up. Republicans were patient, thorough and worked hard to get it done. It will take the same kind of effort and more to make gains in our current climate.

  16. I believe that the rural citizens of Indiana may well be one issue voters ie pro-life, against same sex marriage. They seem to be stuck in the 40’s and 50’s in many cases. And yes, I grew up in rural communities. Many of them go to fundamentalist or evangelical churches.

    They don’t understand that the GOP in Indiana is failing to support laws that would revitalize their communities , improve their access to health care,improve the quality of public education. Many are stuck in willful ignorance. That willful ignorance would lead them to conservative sites and conspiracy theories on the internet if they had access to broadband.

    And yes, democrats have failed to mobilize in a way that can turn this state from extremely red to purple.

    Our low voter outcome further paralyzes us from a state legislature that cares about what the citizens of Indiana need.

    My motto for Indiana? OMG, heal Hoosier blindness!!

  17. I am not sure Indiana is a red state, not if everyone entitled to vote votes, irrespective of the gerrymandering and cries of baby killing, socialism and other such propaganda spewed forth by Fox, and the story told my Monotonous today tells me that Republicans are about to come into the et tu, Brute phase of unquestioned dominance, i. e., they begin to fight among themselves, having no viable opposition Democrats once posed, which would be nothing new. Court intrigues Shakespeare wrote about had their antecedents with mothers of would be pharoahs poisoning their competition and later attempts to assassinate Hitler.

    Perhaps Republicans will eat their own in their zeal to find new opponents to dominate. Perhaps Democrats will come up with a Stacey Abrams to reorganize their party and get voters to the polls in such numbers as to beat the gerrymandering rap. Perhaps, but don’t bet the ranch. Perhaps some brave soul in the legislature (if any) will (for effect) propose a pipeline diverting water from Monument Circle to a moat to be constructed around the State House (with appropriate drawbridges for royalty and the peasantry, of course). Far out? No further out than the medieval garbage being pedalled by the Republican Party supermajority these days.

    We have work to do and we start from where we are. Let’s have at it.

  18. Some “solutions”, James Todd? Remind me: what substantive solutions has the IPD/IMPD, or for that matter, the FOP, brought forward over the years? To the contrary, the unrest caused by police at 42nd and College, and the 1996 Meridian Street police riot, have caused much unnecesary civil unrest. The Downtown police riot occurred 25 years ago, but the circumstances of that outrageous abuse of authority are relatable to today’s charged social environment of public backlash to incidents of police brutality and killings of civilians, in Indianapolis and other cities. It will be interesting to see if the reforms being proposed receive due public exposure—and whether our elected leaders can measure up to the task of installing needed substantive reforms.

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