James Briggs is currently an opinion columnist for the Indianapolis Star. (I say “currently” because for the past several years, the Star has employed one columnist at a time to opine about the news–usually national– arguably to distract readers from recognizing the extent to which the newspaper doesn’t cover state or local government. But I digress.)
I have tended to agree with Briggs’ take on the various matters he’s covered, and a recent column was no exception.The target was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and his retaliation against Disney for having the temerity to oppose his “Don’t say Gay” bill. Briggs wonders whether Florida’s break between business and the GOP will spread to other Red states.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war on Disney feels like a potential breaking point for Republicans and big business.
The question is whether the rift will extend beyond certain regions (such as the Southeast) and personality-driven politics (DeSantis boosts his national profile by taking on that lib, Mickey Mouse) to alter the governing philosophy of Republicans in red states across the country.
As Briggs notes, the traditional alliance between the GOP and big business has become strained, as a number of corporations have responded to public opinion by taking political positions that have angered Republican culture warriors. He mentions Dick’s Sporting Goods, which led large retailers to stop selling semiautomatic rifles and ammunition in 2018, and decisions by Coca-Cola and Delta to oppose Georgia Republicans’ voting legislation last year.
The most famous Indiana example of government clashing with big business, of course, was the 2015 response of Hoosier business to the effort by then-Gov. Mike Pence and the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly to pass an altered version of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act–a version that would have facilitated anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Business won that conflict.
This year in Florida, however, DeSantis’ obedient state legislature passed a bill to eliminate a special district that enables Disney World to operate as its own municipality in the state. The effective date of the measure was delayed until after the midterm elections, undoubtedly because–if it goes into effect– it will raise taxes and shift enormous debt from Disney to Florida taxpayers. (Culture wars come at a cost…)
Some Indiana Republicans are agitating for that shift as well, most notably U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, who has called out Eli Lilly & Co. and bragged about being blacklisted by the Indianapolis drugmaker’s political action committee over objecting to Joe Biden’s election certification last year. Banks also is among 17 Republican members of Congress who wrote to Disney expressing opposition to extending copyright protection for Mickey Mouse beyond 2024.
The sentiment is simmering throughout Indiana. Rank-and-file Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly have been putting the state’s top companies on their heels in recent years, including the most recent session when they introduced legislation that would have all but banned employer vaccine mandates.
I find this 180 degree shift in Republican philosophy gobsmacking. The GOP used to be overly deferential, if anything, to corporate America’s freedom to manage its own business affairs.
Briggs is confident that Indiana will not follow DeSantis’ authoritarian lead. His reasoning is persuasive, but depressing. Essentially, he says Florida remains a state where people want to live and do business. It’s the eighth-fastest-growing state, and it has three of the 10 hottest housing markets. It’s “attracting the population and talent to drive a thriving business climate.”
Indiana is a tougher sell. Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks recently laid that out in brutal terms during a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana.
“Our education attainment in the state is not good,” Ricks said, as reported by WISH-TV. “The ability to reskill the workforce, I think, could improve. Health, life and inclusion, overall, I think, conditions rank poorly nationally in our state. And also workforce preparedness, also related to reskilling, is a liability for us.”
Ricks might have elaborated on that thesis, pointing out that Indiana’s infrastructure and overall quality of life don’t send welcoming messages to potential residents or businesses. “We’re cheap” isn’t exactly an enthusiastic endorsement. Add to our other visible deficits the voices of far too many of our elected officials; Banks isn’t the only embarrassment working overtime to appeal to the under-educated and overwrought GOP base.
Indiana’s Republicans have long since abandoned the statesmanship of Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut. Instead, they are emulating the bigoted idiocies of Margery Taylor Green, Paul Gosar and their ilk.
As Briggs points out, Indiana needs big, high-paying employers–and those employers need workers who are unlikely to agree with Jim Banks, et al, on social issues. We aren’t Florida, “where oceans and warm weather in January have a way of making you forget about politics.”
These days, businesses will think twice about Florida–ocean or not–let alone Indiana.