Indiana’s Autocratic-And Delusional–Legislature

The most positive thing I can say about Indiana’s just-departed legislature is that at least it was a short session.

I have yet to address one of the most offensive bills passed by our legislative overlords: Senate Enrolled Act 202, which presumes to overrule accepted academic standards and procedures in the name of “intellectual diversity.” As numerous professors and other educators have pointed out, the bill is a thinly-veiled effort to combat what its proponents believe is “liberal bias” in higher education. (Unfortunately, as a popular meme proclaims, facts have a well-known liberal bias.)

The bill aims to emulate Ron DeSantis’ war against education and “wokeness”–turning Indiana into Florida, but without the water and sunshine.

Actually, as faculty and students overwhelmingly and unsuccessfully argued, in addition to having a chilling effect on free expression, the proposal is first and foremost an effort to micromanage Indiana’s higher education institutions. And that effort highlights the most prominent characteristic of our legislature’s Republican super-majority: its unbelievable hubris.

Hubris is defined as “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.” It comes from the Greek, and denotes an excess of ambition and self-regard that ultimately causes the transgressor’s ruin.  It is the overwhelming trait of the Republicans who control Indiana’s Statehouse.

Do Indianapolis citizens want public transportation? Our legislative overlords will restrict the kinds of transit for which we can tax ourselves (no light rail, for reasons that escape most of us). If we are finally allowed to proceed, self-appointed mavens in the legislature will overrule transit experts on issues of implementation.

Did the City-County Council pass a tax to support special needs in the city’s mile square? The legislature will tell them who can and cannot be subjected to that tax. (Gotta protect those political donors…)

The same hubris that is evident when the legislature routinely overrules local government decisions about transit, taxes, puppy mills and plastic bags extends to the idiocy of Senate Enrolled Act 202.

As the Capital Chronicle recently described the Act: 

Included are changes to institutions’ diversity-oriented positions and their policies for tenure, contract renewals, performance reviews and more. It also establishes new reporting and survey requirements based on “free inquiry, free expression, and intellectual diversity.”

Garrison noted that, as part of Senate Enrolled Act 202, Indiana “is one of the few states” that now requires boards of trustees to establish diversity committees on our campuses.

Under the new law, those diversity committees must make recommendations promoting recruitment and retention of “underrepresented” students rather than the “minority students” specified in current law….

The law additionally requires institutions to establish complaint procedures in which school students and staff can accuse faculty members and contractors of not meeting free-expression criteria.

Institutions will have to refer those complaints to human resource professionals and supervisors “for consideration in employee reviews and tenure and promotion decisions,” according to the law.

From a legal standpoint, I would argue that language in the bill is unconstitutionally vague, but of course, that’s the point.

It is glaringly clear that the intent of the measure is to warn professors who might be advancing “liberal” ideas that they are jeopardizing their tenure. Of course, what constitutes a “liberal” classroom lecture and a lack of “intellectual diversity” is pretty subjective–and in our current political environment, subject to constant change. If a biology professor teaches evolution and fails to give equal time to creationism, has she failed to be “intellectually diverse”?  Is a professor teaching about the Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage prohibited from agreeing with its reasoning?

And about that encouraging of complaints….

When I taught, it was abundantly clear that most students who filed complaints against my colleagues were students who got poor grades. (I didn’t get any official complaints, but one student did sue me in Small Claims court for giving him a B-, a grade that was actually a gift. He lost.)

There is much more that is truly horrible about Senate Enrolled Act 202, but what is even more troubling than its content is that its passage represents the majority’s hubris and lack of self-awareness. Someone needs to tell these self-important examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect that election to the Indiana Statehouse (courtesy of gerrymandering) is not a grant of  authority to rule everything in Indiana.

At some level, Indiana lawmakers must recognize that they’re on thin ice–why else would they adamantly refuse to extend the hours our polls are open, or allow citizen referenda or nonpartisan redistricting?

Until Indiana’s weak, ineffective Democratic Party is able to run credible candidates in every one of Indiana’s gerrymandered districts, Hoosiers will continue to inhabit an autocracy governed by culture-war know-nothings with wildly inflated self-images.


Evidently, The GOP War On Cities Isn’t Limited To Indiana

When the Indiana legislature is in session, residents of urban areas don’t feel safe–and there is ample reason for our angst, as this blog has repeatedly documented.  A sad side effect is currently playing out in the Indianapolis City County Council, where the Democratic majority is trying to quiet one Counselor’s expressions of anger over the arrogance of a legislator who says he knows best what sort of transit city folks are entitled to. The Democratic caucus is evidently worried that open resistance will make the legislature even harder to deal with.

The bottom line, of course, is that Hoosiers–both city dwellers and rural folks–are absolutely helpless to influence our legislative overlords. Thanks to extreme gerrymandering, legislators in Indiana choose their voters, not the other way around, and Indiana lacks the ability to mount referenda or initiatives. We are truly subjects, not citizens.

There’s no mystery about why.

Our Red state legislature makes war on the cities that provide virtually all of the tax dollars they spend–the cities that are demonstrably the economic engine of the state–because cities are where Democrats live and vote.

It turns out that Indiana is not the only retrograde Red state engaging in these tactics. According to a recent article in The American Prospect, Republican-led states have now taken to blocking liberal cities from even thinking about legislating on behalf of their residents.

There’s nothing historically novel about America’s politics dividing along urban vs. rural or cosmopolitan vs. parochial lines. One has to go back a full century, however, to find a time when the nation’s political fault lines ran so clearly along the city/country divide as they do today.

“Those people” tend to live in cities, and they tend to vote Democratic.

 In the 1920s, cities were too Catholic and Jewish and freethinking for the countryside’s Protestant traditionalists, and new urban-based media (radio, movies) brought the taint of the new to rural communities whose susceptible young people were lighting out for the cities. Today, culture wars and economic conflicts also play out largely along urban/rural lines. Of the top 35 cities in America by population, only four have Republican mayors, and one of those, Eric Johnson of Dallas, Texas, was elected as a Democrat and switched parties in 2023.

State level lawmakers may not be the brainiest of people, but a number of them have figured out that–as the saying goes–there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Since Republican legislatures and governors can’t stop city residents from electing Democrats, however, they’ve devised a whopper of a Plan B: negating majority rule in those areas by denying those cities the right to enact any laws or promote any policies that run counter to the preferences of the governor and the legislature.

The article lists a number of examples. North Carolina’s legislature nullified a Charlotte ordinance protecting LGBTQ rights. When the city of Birmingham passed a municipal minimum-wage statute, the Republican state legislature outlawed municipal minimum-wage laws.

More recently, majority-Black and majority-Democratic Jackson, Mississippi, has had a crime problem, so the Republican Mississippi state legislature responded by enacting a law that stripped criminal trials from the jurisdiction of Jackson courts and established a new group of courts, with judges to be appointed by the state’s Republican chief justice. When Democratic Nashville established a civilian review board for its police, the Republican legislature and governor passed a law that banned civilian review boards. The underlying racism in such preemptions is never very far from the surface. The Republican neo-Dixiecrats who dominate Southern legislatures can no longer keep Blacks from voting, but they’ve found a way to keep Blacks, in the cities where they constitute clear majorities, from governing.

And of course, there’s always Texas.

In the past, the state had enacted laws to stop municipalities from creating local ordinances that protect tenants facing eviction and to stop cities and counties from regulating fracking within their boundaries. Last summer, however, the Texas legislature passed and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law HB 2127, which its sponsors gloatingly called the “Death Star” bill for local governments. The law prohibits municipalities from enacting local ordinances that go beyond any state laws that deal with agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, natural resources, occupations, and property.

The sweeping law negated local statutes like those that Dallas and Austin had enacted to require employers to give water breaks to construction workers in torrid summers. It further forbade cities from enacting any such ordinances that climate change or conscience might require. It’s so broad that it’s not clear just what kind and how many local laws and regulations it would negate.

Knowing that Indiana isn’t alone really doesn’t give me any comfort.


Is Rokita Even Worth The Pixels?

What is so depressing about living in Indiana these days is the dismal quality of our state government.

I’ve frequently posted about what the late Harrison Ullmann accurately called “The World’s Worst Legislature,” a body currently waging war on Indianapolis and higher education, among other travesties.

I actually had some residue of respect for the governor, who I thought was an “old kind” of Republican caught in the vice of MAGA world, but that respect evaporated when he sent Indiana National Guard troops to the southern border to bolster Texas’ performative pissing match with the federal government.

The embarrassment that is our current legislature is largely attributable to the gerrymandering that allows lawmakers to choose their voters, but that excuse is unavailable when we consider statewide candidates like our Attorney General, Todd Rokita, about whom I have posted more frequently that his sorry career warrants. (Put “Rokita” in the search bar, and multiple examples will come up.)

Rokita’s efforts to out-MAGA the MAGAs in his party have been so egregious and unethical that he was sanctioned by Indiana’s all-Republican Supreme Court.

As Paula Cardoza-Jones (a former member of the Disciplinary Commission) has noted,  Rokita just can’t stop lying:

In 2022, Attorney General Todd Rokita spoke repeatedly and publicly about his investigation into complaints about a doctor who provided abortion services in Indiana to a 10-year-old rape victim who was unable to obtain such services in Ohio.

As a result, Rokita was accused of violating a statute that requires complaints about a doctor “be held in strict confidence until the attorney general files notice with the [Medical Licensing Board] of the attorney general’s intent to prosecute the licensee.”  Ind. Code § 25-1-7-10(a) (“Confidentiality Statute”).

On September 18, 2023, the Disciplinary Commission (“Commission”) filed a Disciplinary Complaint in three counts (“Complaint”), Cause No. 23S-DI-00258, alleging violations of the following Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct (“Rules”):

(1) Rule 3.6(a)—making extrajudicial statements with a substantial likelihood of prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding;

(2) Rule 4.4(a)–using means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person; and

(3) Rule 8.4(d)—engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice based on his violation of the Confidentiality Statute.

Members of Indiana’s highest court agreed on the probity of those allegations, only disagreeing about the severity of the sanctions to be imposed. Rokita subsequently issued misleading pronouncements about that conclusion and was again reprimanded by the Court.

You might think being continually slapped down would teach him a lesson, but–despite his focus on Indiana schools–Rokita is clearly incapable of being educated.

As the Capital Chronicle reports:

A new dashboard unveiled Tuesday by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office makes public more than two dozen allegations of “potentially inappropriate materials” in Hoosier schools, like critical race theory materials and gender identity policies.

But numerous local officials told the Indiana Capital Chronicle they weren’t made aware of the complaints and contend the allegations were not properly vetted before the portal went live.

Attorney General Todd Rokita referred to “Eyes on Education” as a transparency tool that intends to “empower parents to further engage in their children’s education” and provide “real examples of indoctrination.”

The portal accepts submissions pertaining to K-12 classrooms, colleges, universities and “other affiliated academic entities in Indiana.” But it is unclear how, or if, they are vetting the accuracy of the allegations.

Given what we know of Rokita, it is highly unlikely that these allegations are being “vetted” at all. His “explanation” makes the politics of this new “portal” abundantly clear.

“As I travel the state, I regularly hear from students, parents and teachers about destructive curricula, policies or programs in our schools,” Rokita said in a statement, adding that the portal allows Hoosier parents to “view real examples of socialist indoctrination from classrooms across the state.”

“Our kids need to focus on fundamental educational building blocks,” he continued, “NOT ideology that divides kids from their parents and normal society.”

Several districts have pointed out that portal submissions were out of date or simply inaccurate–but of course, none of those responses appear on the portal. Representative Ed Delaney notes that–among other issues– public education matters are outside the purview of the Attorney General.

This effort to score political points with the most rabid of the MAGA cultists isn’t simply a dishonest ideological stunt; it exceeds the Attorney General’s jurisdiction.

But hey, it’s Todd Rokita–the “lawyer” who has no respect for the Constitutions of either the U.S. or Indiana, or for the rule of law.

Please vote so that I won’t have to waste pixels on this sorry excuse for a public servant after November.


They Aren’t Even Pretending

It’s an election year, and we are already–predictably–being inundated with commentaries exploring the roots of MAGA devotion to a mentally-ill would-be dictator. The punditry digs into sociology, political science research–even psychiatric diagnosis– and the result is to obfuscate and excuse what most honest Americans recognize as the roots of MAGA’s attraction: racism and a fear of  Americans who can be considered “Other.”

As the more complicated (and generous) “analyses” mount, however, so does the evidence of the bigotry and White Christian Nationalism that is powering support for Trump. There are a lot of areas of our common lives that are genuinely complex, but evidence abounds that Trumpism/MAGA is not one of them.

This blog has frequently highlighted that evidence, and today I am offering yet another example of the willingness of bigots to be “out and proud.” Increasingly, they are willing to be forthright about the world they are trying to create, and candidly, I find it terrifying.

This report from the Guardian is the latest example:

A venture fund and a real estate startup – both with links to far-right organizations – are promoting a residential development in rural Kentucky as a haven for fellow right-wingers.

The promoters have presented the planned development as an “aligned community” for right-wingers who want to “disappear from the cultural insanity of the broader country” and “spearhead the revival of the region”.

The move is the latest effort by the far-right to establish geographical enclaves, following in the footsteps of movements like the so-called “American Redoubt”, which encourages right-wingers to engage in “political migration” to areas in the interior of the Pacific north-west.

Unsurprisingly, the development was announced on X, which is being turned into a racist and anti-Semitic cesspool by Elon Musk. It was also announced  in a special edition of the “New Founding” by Joshua Abbotoy, who is described as the “managing director of venture fund New Founding and principal of real estate developer Kentucky Ridge Runner LLC.”

According to Abbotoy, “Most of the leadership is going to be led by Protestant Christians.” (Take that, Catholics!!)

The Guardian contacted Abbotoy via email, asking whether he reserved the right to refuse to sell parcels to prospective purchasers who weren’t members of the “aligned community” and on what basis. He didn’t respond.

Actually, this appeal–closely targeted to a White Protestant Christian market–is a fascinating amalgam of market capitalism and bigotry.

“Utopian communities have long been a feature of the American landscape, but this may be more of a money-driven land speculation project with a culture war angle than an effort to create a utopian project in the classic sense”, said Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers, a key book on Christian nationalism.

There are two “aligned community” developments underway, and The Guardian calculated the profits if lots sell at the asking prices: in one, the company paid around $6,011 an acre, but buyers will pay up to the equivalent of $88,500 an acre for unimproved lots, or up to fourteen times the rate HRP paid. In the other, sellers will collect a total of at least $2.27 million on 550 acres of land for which they paid $900,000.

Nice work if you can get it….

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that pious Right-wing folks are seen by these enterprising developers not as comrades in utopian “aligned communities,” but as patsies.

The website advertising the lots says the developers seek to “build and back companies defined by American ideals and a positive national vision”,  and adds that it “explicitly oppose[s] DEI/ESG and the bureaucratization of American business culture” and targets “customers disfavored by corrosive ideologies.”

The explicit rejection of “diversity” and “inclusion” telegraphs the basis for the appeal.

Financial matters aside, Stewart said the move tracked with the preferences of the contemporary far right.

“This is typical of the far-right’s emotional need for a ‘safe space’,” she wrote.

“It’s not just that some members of this extremist cohort disagree with liberals, feminists, or any number of people who don’t share their views; it’s that they really can’t stand having those people anywhere nearby,” Stewart added.

“The mere existence of people not like them counts as an insult.”

I used to believe that such people were a small percentage of the American public. Now, I’m not so sure. The good capitalists who are targeting them obviously think they comprise a substantial and thus-far untapped market.

It’s scary.


“Makers” Making Hay

Remember Mitt Romney’s division of Americans into the “Makers” and the “Takers”? That division reflected the GOP’s longstanding policy of privileging the privileged.

Americans argue a lot about the meaning of “privilege,” but there is plenty of research confirming that–whatever other attributes may confer social or fiscal privilege–there’s hardly anything better than being rich.

I’ve posted before about the research confirming that education vouchers are disproportionately used by families whose children are already in private schools–most of whom can well afford to pay the tuition. Our tax dollars are relieving them of that obligation. How very nice of us!

And of course, it isn’t exactly a secret that the richest Americans make out like bandits when it comes to federal taxes. As the Center for American Progress has reported, low-income Americans pay higher payroll tax rates than rich Americans, the state and local tax (SALT) deduction is extremely regressive, and mortgage interest deductions are skewed toward the rich. Meanwhile, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends—both of which are forms of capital income that are taxed at lower, preferential rates—”overwhelmingly accrue to the rich.” And Republicans have pretty much eliminated estate taxes on the basis that they are not fair to the “Makers” who want to enrich their children and grandchildren.

There has been less attention focused on state-level tax rates, but a recent report from The Hill confirms a widespread suspicion that state-level taxes are similarly skewed. It turns out–surprise!!– the rich don’t pay anything remotely close to their fair share of state tax burdens. And it isn’t only their ability to pay clever accountants that largely exempts the rich from those pesky tax bills.

The wealthiest families in most states are paying lower tax rates than everyone else, a new analysis found.

The new study conducted by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy analyzed the tax systems across all 50 states and Washington, D.C., by looking into how each of seven different income groups pays state and local tax rates.

The study ultimately found that the lower someone’s income is, the higher their overall effective state and local tax rate is.

“On average, the lowest-income 20 percent of taxpayers face a state and local tax rate nearly 60 percent higher than the top 1 percent of households,” the analysis states.

In 41 states, the top 1 percent of families have a lower tax rate than everyone else, according to the analysis. In 42 states, the top 1 percent of earners pay less than the bottom 20 percent, and in 46 states the top 1 percent are taxed at a lower rate than the middle 60 percent, the study found.

The study found that only six states, plus Washington, D.C., tax the bottom 20 percent of income brackets at the lowest rate: New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Minnesota and Maine. Indiana is among the thirty-four states that tax low-income families at higher rates than everyone else.

So if you are a struggling “Taker” in the Hoosier state, or in another one of those thirty-four states, you get punished for being poor. I found this absolutely gob-smacking.

There are all kinds of arguments (good, bad and indifferent) against raising tax rates for the rich–including what level of taxation can be considered punitive, where the lines should be drawn between brackets, and the level of taxation of businesses that might have a negative effect on productivity. But I am unaware of any rational argument for saying, in effect, “let’s hit these folks while they’re down.” Or, “let’s get the money we need to operate state government from poor folks so we don’t have to annoy our rich citizens.”

I’m sure the fact that political donations come predominantly from the upper bracket of earners has absolutely nothing to do with it. (And I have a bridge in Florida to sell you…)

Given the amount of attention our state legislators focus on taxes, and their constant public  hand-wringing and crocodile tears about the need to protect citizens from the burden of taxation, I find it very interesting–and very disheartening– that so little attention has been paid to the over-taxing of those least able to pay and the unconscionable under-taxing of those with ample resources.

Assuming We the People emerge more or less intact from the existential threats we face– to democracy, civility and the planet– we really need to have a data-based discussion of tax policy.