Tag Archives: Indiana legislature

Minority Rule, Courtesy of Gerrymandering

In addition to its website, Talking Points Memo sends out a morning newsletter to subscribers. A few days ago, that newsletter (paywall) included two paragraphs that sum up the single biggest challenge facing American democracy.

The success of the abortion rights coalition in ballot initiatives from Kentucky to Michigan showed that abortion can be just as powerful an incentive to vote for those who support abortion access as for those who oppose it.

For many House Republicans, that shift would, in another world, alter their behavior. With majorities in even deeply red states supporting abortion access, you’d expect these lawmakers to moderate their position. But thanks to the dearth of competitive House districts due to cumulative years of gerrymandering, many of them have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right than a general election against a Democrat.

I have frequently posted about the effects of gerrymandering. Probably the most damaging consequence is voter suppression; as I have often noted, people who live in a district considered “safe” for the party they don’t support lack an incentive to vote. When the disfavored party doesn’t turn out, that also depresses the votes for that party’s  candidates for statewide office.

Here in Indiana–a state that has been identified as one of the five most gerrymandered states in the country–our legislature is beginning a session in which the Republican super-majority continues to disregard the demonstrated priorities of its Hoosier constituents.

Several Republican lawmakers appear to oppose the Governor’s call to invest in the Hoosier state’s inadequate, struggling public health system. For that matter, there appears to be no appetite for confronting Indiana’s dismal ratings in a wide variety of quality of life indicators. As Hoosier Democrats recently pointed out: 

Hoosiers have a F rated quality-of-life and the state has a D- rated workforce, a C- rated education system, the third worst maternal mortality rate in the nation, and the country’s most polluted waterways. It appears Republicans will once again ignore the warning signs from Indiana’s top business leaders and their taxpayer-funded reports and instead choose to focus on their extreme agenda.

CNBC lists Indiana as one of the ten worst states in which to live.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve posted on just one part of that extreme agenda, the GOP’s war on public education. Other efforts include our lawmakers’ continuing war on LGBTQ Hoosiers– especially on  trans kids and anyone in the medical community who dares to serves them.

Indiana isn’t alone, unfortunately.

In 2015, two political scientists– Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern–published a study concluding that the preferences of US voters barely matter. Or as they put it, “economic elites and organized interest groups play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.”…

Gilens and “a small army of research assistants” compiled nearly 2,000 polls and surveys that asked for opinions about a proposed policy change. Since he wanted to separate out the preferences of economic elites and average citizens, he only used surveys that asked about respondents’ income. He found 1,779 poll results that fit that description, spanning from 1981 to 2002. Then he took the answers of median-income voters to represent what average voters think, and the answers of respondents at the 90th income percentile to represent what economic elites think.

Next, the authors had to measure what interest groups thought about all of those issues. They decided to use Fortune magazine’s yearly “Power 25” lists of the most influential lobbying groups, but since it “seemed to neglect certain major business interests,” they added the ten industries that had reported the most spending on lobbying. Their final list includes 29 business groups, several major unions, and other well-known interest groups like the AARP, the Christian Coalition, the NRA, the American Legion, and AIPAC. Each interest group’s position on those 1,779 policy change proposals were coded, along with how strongly each group felt about each proposal. The results were combined to assess how interest groups in general, felt.

The study found that average citizens only get what they want if economic elites or organized interest groups also want it…

In contrast, the preferences of economic elites and interest groups — especially economic elites — are each quite influential.

In dramatically gerrymandered Indiana, the clear preferences/warnings of the state’s largest businesses and growing tech sector are routinely disregarded in favor of  the “influential elites” who evidently believe that low taxes are a more attractive economic development tool than a reasonable quality of life–a belief with which CNBC begs to differ.

Indiana’s super-majority does listen to the well-organized religious fundamentalists whose policy preferences repel the high-skilled workers our economy needs. 

As long as they can gerrymander, our unrepresentative representatives are safe from democracy– and their constituents.



Keeping Indiana Backward

No one likes a smart-aleck who says “I told you so.” But–along with many other Hoosiers–I told you so.

The Indianapolis Star recently reported on one part of the economic fallout created by the culture warriors at the Indiana Statehouse.The headline confirms the findings: “Indiana politics make it difficult for tech industry to recruit, keep employees in state.”

The disconnect is growing between Indiana’s mounting socially conservative policies, which includes not only the near-total abortion ban currently stalled in court, but also a ban on trans girls playing school sports, and the tech industry’s increasingly vocal progressive workforce.

The tension is brewing as major employers struggle to recruit and keep employees in the state, a problem that is snowballing into a crisis for Indiana.

It isn’t just the tech sector. In the wake of the legislature’s hasty passage of the abortion ban in the wake of the Dobbs decision, a financial magazine quoted David Ricks, the CEO of Eli Lilly and Co.,reporting on requests he’d been getting  from employees wanting to transfer out of Indiana. (Other non-tech employers have voiced similar concerns, and  admissions officers at several of the state’s institutions of higher education expect fewer female applicants for admission.)

The tech workers who spoke with the Star following passage of the ban–ranging from those working in startups to employees of global software companies– reported that the abortion ban had prompted a number of coworkers to start looking for jobs in other states.

Some tech workers said the abortion ban would make it scary for them to start families because of concern that they couldn’t get the health care if they developed complications during pregnancies…

But for others, it’s not just the ban, but what it signals for the future for other social issues, such as LGBTQ rights.

As the article notes, tech workers are some of the most in-demand employees across the country. A significant number can weigh multiple job offers against each other, and a decision about where to locate will depend upon the attractiveness of the community in which they will be employed, as well as the company making the offer.

Jordan Thayer, a trans woman working as a consultant in automation for a software development company in Carmel, said she’s worried that she soon won’t be free to live her life as she wants and her family won’t be safe if they need pregnancy care.

She sees states like Tennessee proposing to ban drag performances in public and worries those laws will come to Indiana and make it hard for her to be out in public, she said.

So, long term, her family won’t stay.

“I don’t want to have to jump employers and change states in a hurry,” she said. “So, we’re looking now.”

Industry analysts warn that tech companies in states where abortion access and LGBTQ rights are restricted will need to offer remote work to attract some applicants. Those  (well-paid) remote workers will be lost to Indiana–they’ll pay taxes to the states in which they reside, and they’ll patronize the bars, restaurants and businesses in those states.

The article quoted a female CEO:

You want to live in a community that supports your values and your life style,” she said. “If you’re a woman and you have a choice between living in a state that provides you a great job and your reproductive rights versus a state with a great job and no reproductive rights, it’s easily a tie-breaker.”

It isn’t as though Indiana is  otherwise a sought-after place to live. We don’t have natural amenities, like mountains or lakes or great weather, and thanks to the gerrymandering that has protected a retrograde legislature unwilling to spend tax dollars to improve the quality of life, we have multiple other deficits.

As the article acknowledged:

Long before the Supreme Court became a super conservative majority that would reshape federal and state policies, Indiana has struggled with attracting top talent. Economists have pointed to a mix of reason, including lack of good schools, flat and largely landlocked landscape, poor infrastructure and sparse attractions and amenities compared to other states.

And so even when everything is equal: company brand, salary to cost of living ratio, amenities in the city, the social laws of the state is a tie-breaker, several tech workers said.

Indiana’s abortion ban may well be struck down for violating the religious liberties of Hoosiers whose religions permit abortion and prioritize the health of the mother, but–as the article makes clear–the ban is only one aspect of a legislative agenda that will keep Indiana firmly rooted in the 1950s–and on the “avoid” list of skilled Americans with other options.



What Did You Learn In School Today?

As Hoosiers anticipate the upcoming session of the General Assembly–an anticipation tinged with trepidation for many of us– we would do well to focus on the harms our Lords and Masters at the Statehouse intend to visit on public education this year.

This will be a budget year, and education is a huge part of that budget. I should note that, despite the pious concerns about taxes and spending voiced by Republican legislators each year, Indiana lawmakers have thrown millions of dollars into efforts to privatize education via the country’s largest voucher program, sending those dollars primarily to religious schools while routinely shortchanging the needs of our public schools.

According to the Indiana Capital Chronicle, the state is currently short 2300 teachers, a shortage undoubtedly exacerbated by inadequate pay levels and the legislature’s obvious disdain for the profession, demonstrated by its persistent efforts to dictate what can and cannot be taught in the classroom. In the upcoming session, a don’t say gay bill will be introduced, along with one purporting to keep Critical Race Theory out of the classroom. (The fact that actual CRT has never been in the classroom is irrelevant to the culture warriors, most of whom couldn’t tell you what it is if their lives depended on it.)

Classroom teachers and school board members I’ve talked to are exhausted by the constant assaults by Rightwing parents–the uninformed demands that they teach (or omit) certain materials,  efforts to ban books or remove them from school libraries, and hysterical accusations about education perceived to be “woke.” These high-decibel accusations are front-page news, despite the fact that–according to research–the great majority of Americans who actually have children in the public schools are satisfied with the education those children are receiving.

The harassment of teachers and school board members has little to do with what actually goes on in the nation’s classrooms; instead, it is one of the more visible battlefronts in the GOP’s culture war.

The linked study, done by Pew prior to the midterm elections, underscores the fundamentally partisan nature of the assault.

As the midterm election approaches, issues related to K-12 schools have become deeply polarized. Republican and Democratic parents of K-12 students have widely different views on what their children should learn at school about gender identity, slavery and other topics, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

They also offer different assessments of the influence parents, local school boards and other key players have on what public K-12 schools in their area are teaching. Republican parents with children in K-12 schools are about twice as likely as Democratic parents to say parents don’t have enough influence (44% vs. 23%, including those who lean to each party). And Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say school boards have too much influence (30% vs. 17%). These parents also differ over the amount of input they personally have when it comes to what their own children are learning in school.

At the same time, Republican and Democratic parents – including those with children in public schools – are equally likely to say they are extremely or very satisfied with the quality of the education their children are receiving (58% each) and that the teachers and administrators at their children’s schools have values that are similar to their own (54% each).

The large differences between what Republican and Democratic parents believe their children should learn are illuminating.

When it comes to what their children are learning in school, U.S. parents of K-12 students are divided over what they think their children should learn about gender identity: 31% say they would prefer that their children learn that whether someone is a boy or a girl is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, and the same share say they’d rather their children learn that someone can be a boy or a girl even if that’s different from their sex at birth. A 37% plurality say their children shouldn’t learn about this in school.

There is also no consensus when it comes to what parents want their children to learn about slavery: 49% say they would prefer that their children learn that the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black people in American society today, while a smaller but sizable share (42%) would prefer that their children learn that slavery is part of American history but doesn’t affect the position of Black people in American society today.

The self-appointed education experts in Indiana’s General Assembly should take note of another Pew finding: more parents say that state and federal governments have too much influence on what goes on in the classroom–and complain that teachers and principals don’t have enough.

Perhaps if legislators respected teachers–and compensated them accordingly–we wouldn’t be frantically searching for 2300 more of them.

Oh Indiana…

When friends and family members bemoan Indiana’s retrograde legislature, I like to remind them that the domination of that assemblage by pious frauds and occasional fascists (paging Jim Lucas) is a longstanding one. In the late 1800s,  the Indiana General Assembly decided to legislatively change the definition of pi.

Shades of Marjorie Taylor Greene…

When Indiana makes national news, it is almost never because our lawmakers have done something positive, so it wasn’t a surprise when, earlier this month, the state made headlines in the Washington Post.

That linked headline was a follow-up to an earlier article reporting on Indiana’s successful rush to pass one of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion bills. It featured comments received in response to that report–comments that put the legislation into proper historical context.

Indiana becoming the first state to pass an antiabortion law post-Dobbs is reminiscent of Indiana becoming the first state to pass forced sterilization, in 1907. To understand the state’s history of white-supremacist and misogynist legislation — catering to the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society and other extremist groups — one needs to review the state’s conservative religious and political cultures. Not that this will liberate its citizens, but it gives context showing the state’s long history of oppressing individual liberty.

Another letter amplified the point by noting that, In the 1920s, Indiana was the only state in the union where every single county had its own chapter of the KKK.  (Still another letter-writer proved the continuing influence of Klan defensiveness, by insisting that both the John Birch Society and the KKK had Black members and integrated chapters…)

Friends who listened to the arguments over passage of SB 1, the anti-abortion bill, recounted the numerous references to Jesus–clearly, there are no First Amendment scholars in Indiana’s GOP super-majority! They also noted the divisions within the party over whether to allow any exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. (“Pro-life” sentiments obviously don’t extend to the life of the women those lawmakers  dismiss as mere incubators…)

Disregard for the lives and autonomy of women is hardly the only evidence of what late NUVO editor Harrison Ullmann dubbed “The World’s Worst Legislature.” Our “pro life” lawmakers’ love affair with guns has led to increasing permissiveness–this year, despite the GOP’s purported support for police, the General Assembly ignored the testimony of law enforcement officials and eliminated the requirement of a permit to legally carry, conceal or transport a handgun within the state.

Ours is a state where the culture war dominates. It wasn’t that long ago–under the guidance of Mr. Piety–aka Mike Pence–that Indiana passed RFRA, another legislative effort that earned Indiana national headlines. As an article in the Chicago Tribune advised our lawmakers in the wake of that travesty,  “If you have to emphatically reassure citizens that your law won’t result in discrimination, it might be a bad law.”

This morning, the governor of Indiana signed a very bad law. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is defended by its supporters as a means of protecting the religious liberty of each and every Hoosier of every faith.

That is what we in the “that’s a bunch of baloney” business call, not surprisingly, a bunch of baloney. This law, and others like it that are bubbling up in state legislatures across the country, is a transparent reaction to the swift expansion of same-sex marriage rights. The law effectively allows any business to refuse service to gay or lesbian people on religious grounds.

I’ve posted previously about the success of the legislature’s “Christian warriors” campaign to divert education funds to private, largely fundamentalist Christian schools via the nation’s largest voucher program.

That program isn’t the only attack by Indiana legislators on public school classrooms that has made national headlines. Vanity Fair was one of the many outlets reporting on Republican senator Scott Baldwin’s assertion that teachers must be “impartial” during lessons about Nazism and related “isms.” (Baldwin subsequently tried to walk back his statement, but it was too little, too late.) I suppose Hoosiers should be grateful for all the adverse publicity Baldwin generated; it was probably the reason the bill to ban teaching of (an invented) Critical Race Theory in the state’s public schools failed.

I absolutely agree with  one letter-writer to the Vigo County Tribune-Star. During the pandemic, as our intrepid legislators were protecting our freedom to infect our neighbors, he wrote:

It is better to be thought fools, than to pass legislation and remove all doubt.

In January 2022, Indiana Representatives plan to vote on House Bill 1001. The bill requires private businesses to accept any made-up excuse from employees refusing vaccination. Obvious bullpoo cannot be challenged…

 As an educator, I applaud any attempt to cure stupid. But, quarantining the worse cases in the House is not the answer.


Indiana’s “Pro Life” Liars

Those of you who read this blog with any sort of regularity already know that the Hoosier legislators who wrap themselves in the “pro-life” label are anything but.  They are either pro-birth or anti-woman or focused on pandering to far right constituencies–usually, all three.

Nowhere is the hypocrisy of that label more vivid than in their devotion to instruments of death. I recently received the following email from a university staff member; I am sharing it in its entirety, in the hopes that many of you will take the indicated actions (not that our legislators listen to the broader public, which favors more gun control by massive margins.)

House Bill 1077 passed the house last week despite broad opposition, including from law enforcement. This bill allows for anyone, 18 or older, unless otherwise prohibited, to carry loaded handguns in public without a permit. Senate Bill 14 is similar to House Bill 1077; it allows anyone, 21 or older, unless otherwise prohibited, to carry loaded handguns in public without a permit. Senate Bill 14 will be heard by the Judiciary Committee on January 19th. Indiana has nearly 1,000 gun deaths a year, and gun deaths have increased 30% in the last decade, compared to an 17% increase nationwide. Indianapolis has seen a record number of homicides in 2021— many of which were gun homicides. Repealing the permitting requirement is irresponsible, reckless, has led to increased gun violence, and guts essential permitting standards for carrying handguns in public.

What you can do:
Sign and Share the Petition: https://www.change.org/p/oppose-hb-1077-say-no-to-permitless-carry.
Text INDIANA to 644-33 to tell your lawmaker to vote NO on HB1077/SB14 when it comes up for discussion and a vote before the full Senate chamber.

Senate Bill 143, Self-defense, specifies that “reasonable force” includes the pointing of a loaded or unloaded firearm for purposes of self-defense and arrest statutes. This is a dangerous policy as pointing a firearm does not deescalate a confrontation. This stand your ground expansion will likely disproportionately impact communities of color. When white shooters kill Black victims, the resulting homicides are considered justifiable 5 times more often than when the shooter is Black and the victim is white. Senate Bill 143 has a hearing on January 18th.

What you can do:
If your senator is on the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, tell them to vote NO on SB 143.Corrections and Criminal Law Committee: Sen. Michael Young, Sen. Susan Glick, Sen. Mike Bohacek, Sen. Aaron Freeman, Sen. Eric Koch, Sen. Jack Sandlin, Sen. Kyle Walker, Sen. Rodney Pol, Sen. Greg Taylor
If your senator is not on the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, tell them to vote NO on SB 143 if it comes up for discussion and a vote before the full Senate chamber.

Senate Bill 228, Acquisition and storage of firearms, prohibits a person from keeping or storing an unsecured firearm on any premises controlled by the person under certain circumstances; it also requires a person wishing to transfer a firearm to another person to transact the transfer through a firearms dealer. Senate Bill 228 has yet to have a hearing scheduled. Unsecured guns in the home pose a substantial risk to children who may find and use them against themselves or others. Estimates suggest that modest increases in the number of American homes safely storing firearms could prevent almost a third of youth gun deaths due to suicide and unintentional firearm injury

What you can do:
Email or Call Senator Young (s35@iga.in.gov | 317-232-9517) and ask him to hear SB 228 in the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee.

Something else you can do, if you live in a district (mis)represented by one of Indiana’s pro-death, pro-gun cowboys, is vote against them at the next election and get your rational neighbors to do the same.

And be sure to let them know why.