The Indiana Capital Chronicle is one of a handful of new media sites trying to fill the dangerous void in news about local and state government. (As I frequently complain on this site, so-called “legacy media” like the Indianapolis Star have emptied their newsrooms of reporters as they’ve focused on cutting costs at the expense of real journalism. The result has been a news desert when it comes to informing citizens about their state and local governments.)
A recent column in The Capital Chronicle focused on what is perhaps the most annoying characteristic of Indiana’s General Assembly–its pursuit of legislation untethered to the needs or desires of Hoosier constituents.
As the columnist began;
My Christmas wish is pretty simple: I would like lawmakers to listen to what Hoosiers want. ALL Hoosiers, not just the loudest slice of their Republican constituents.
Poll after poll and survey after survey shows what Indiana residents are worried about, and what they aren’t.
Bellwether Research’s latest poll in early December surveyed 1,100 Hoosiers representing both the demographic and geographic layout of Indiana. It asked about their top priorities.
Wishes one and two were lowering health care costs and affordable housing, at 31% and 21% respectively….Next up was increasing K-12 education funding at 17%. Nothing after is in double digits
As Hoosier lawmakers prepare for the upcoming session, however, they are signaling their preoccupation with culture-war issues. Some are focusing on restricting dissemination of abortion pills through the mail; according to the polling, exactly 3% of Hoosiers care about restricting access to mailed abortion pills. (Quite the contrary: according to the article, the GOP’s own internal polling reveals that a solid majority supports abortion rights, and a survey by Ball State found that 56% of Hoosiers believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.)
That poll also found that 56% of Hoosiers believe marijuana should be legal for personal use and 29% for medicinal purposes. Only 15% say it should not be legal…
Surveys also find only 6% of Hoosiers making oversight of K-12 curriculum a top concern, but the “usual suspects” in the Indiana Statehouse are busy preparing bills to combat “critical race theory,” which is not only not being taught, but is a rather rarified field of research into American legal systems pursued by a subset of law professors. Use of the terminology is not only inaccurate, it is intentionally misleading–a none-too-subtle “dog whistle” to White supremicists who want teachers to ignore certain aspects of the national story.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Indiana if our legislature failed to pick on LGBTQ Hoosiers. House Education Chairman Robert Behning has promised introduction of a “don’t say gay” bill–demonstrating that Indiana lawmakers aren’t intimidated by that pesky court ruling that found Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill unconstitutional.
Most lawmakers send out constituent surveys on hot topics that they know will be coming up. They are clearly less scientific than the polls I have mentioned but even when legislators directly hear from their most engaged constituents they ignore the results.
Remember gun licensing from earlier this year? Not a single survey — that journalists could find — supported abandoning the carry permit. In fact they almost all said to keep the system as-is. But legislators tossed the licensing out with the bathwater — against advice of the Indiana State Police superintendent and the majority of law enforcement groups.
Growing up I was always told, “be careful what you ask for.” It seems lately the phrase for Hoosiers should shift to, “be careful what you DON’T ask for,” because you are increasingly more likely to get it.
The disconnect between what Hoosiers want and what we get from our lawmakers is a direct result of gerrymandering that produces safe seats and allow lawmakers to ignore the policy preferences of a majority of Indiana citizens.
Gerrymandering, after all, is the very best voter suppression tactic. Why bother to vote when the result has been foreordained–or, to use Trump language, when the election has been rigged? Gerrymandering amplifies the power of the fringes–the ideologues and culture warriors who vote in primaries–and effectively disenfranchises the rest of us.
Reporting on the antics at the Statehouse is one of the very few checks on lawmakers bent on pursing their own cultural fixations, and central Indiana has been ill-served by the Star’s devolution into sports and what has been called the “beer beat”–reports on new watering holes. That makes the arrival of the Indiana Capital Chronicle very welcome. The Chronicle describes itself as an “independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections.”
It’s probably wishful thinking, but perhaps a “comprehensive look” at what Harrison Ullmann dubbed the World’s Worst Legislature will trigger efforts at reform….