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.


Our Legislative Overlords Strike Again

As I have repeatedly pointed out, Indiana has nothing remotely approaching home rule. Our legislative overlords consider themselves to be arbiters of both state and local decisions, entitling them to impose their personal prejudices and “unique” viewpoints on municipal governments.

The fact that local legislators–chosen by the residents of those municipalities–may have different priorities is irrelevant. (Remember when Bloomington wanted to forbid the use of plastic grocery bags? The legislature said no can do.)

It was bad enough when Indianapolis had to go to the Statehouse for three sessions to get permission to hold a referendum to determine whether we could tax ourselves for mass transit. And even then, the legislative pooh-bas took light rail off the table–no, we couldn’t ask Indianapolis citizens if they wanted that particular method of transit. And ever since the city voted–overwhelmingly–for the transit we were allowed to consider, Aaron Freeman, a member of the legislature (not the City County Council) has been trying to stop construction.

Because his lordship disagrees with the results of the democratic process. Other members of Indiana’s legislative self-appointed aristocracy want to reverse the City’s decision to limit right turns on red. It evidently hasn’t occurred to these autocrats that if Indianapolis citizens disagree with these decisions, we can vote for different municipal legislators. We have the veto; the legislature does not. At least, it should not.

As aggravating as these examples are, however, they don’t hold a candle to what was reported yesterday.

Indianapolis residents would lose access to free bus rides on Election Day under new legislation filed by a state senator from southern Indiana.

IndyGo buses were free to ride during the 2022 and 2023 general elections because of a sponsorship from AARP Indiana, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of older residents.

The AARP sponsored similar efforts in Fort Wayne, Gary and Evansville, and is currently considering another sponsorship in Indianapolis for the 2024 general election — which will contain the high-profile elections of attorney general, governor, U.S. senator and president.

But those rides would be stopped under Senate Bill 187, which contains a single sentence: “A public transportation agency shall not implement free or reduced fares on a general, primary or municipal election day.”

Sen. Gary Byrne, R-Georgetown, said his legislation is about ensuring all voters have the same access to the polls.

“It’s a fairness thing for me on voting,” Byrne told Mirror Indy on Thursday. “The area that I live in, there’s no public transportation, and to say one part of the state gets a free ride to go vote sort of discriminates against other people in the state who don’t have that opportunity.”

Fairness my patootie! The real motive here is suppression of the urban vote. Byrne is Republican. In Indiana–and elsewhere–Republicans depend upon the votes of rural White folks to retain office. Anything that facilitates turnout in urban parts of the state–especially turnout by “those people”–minority citizens and poor folks–must be stopped. Why…it’s “woke.”

The transparency of motive, however, is beside the point. The point is, this none of the legislature’s business. Tax dollars are not being spent. Government bodies are not the sponsors. A private non-profit organization is sponsoring this effort to ameliorate some of the burdens experienced by municipal citizens.

The next time you hear a Republican talk about “freedom” or “keeping government from interfering with private business decisions” you should understand that what the members of that cult really mean is: “we are only in favor of interfering with decisions that we disagree with, or decisions that might make it more difficult for us to win elections. So long as you use your uterus and your nonprofit dollars in ways we approve, we won’t interfere.”

If Byrne really cared about “fairness,” he”d sponsor a bill to help his poorer rural constituents get to the polls–he wouldn’t be trying to suppress the votes of people who live in the urban areas of the state.


Whatever Happened to Integrity?

I concluded yesterday’s post by saying “We have spoiled toddlers running state and federal offices, but at least adults run the cities.” Evidently, some of those adults are less  praiseworthy than I suggested.

Indianapolis recently held a referendum on transportation. It wasn’t easy convincing the General Assembly that residents of the city should be allowed to decide for ourselves whether to impose a modest tax increase dedicated to the expansion of the city’s painfully inadequate bus service. It took a couple of years, but we finally did.

The vote was advisory, meaning that it will inform members of the City-County Council, whose votes will be dispositive. I think it is fair to say that voters expect the Councilors’ votes to reflect the clear results of the popular will.

The referendum won handily. But some Councilors– in districts where constituents voted decisively for the transit expansion– are vacillating. According to several people who have talked to them, the reluctant Council members are ambitious politicians who plan to run for higher office; they have been telling transit proponents that they don’t want a future opponent to be able to accuse them of raising taxes.

Think about that for a minute. This isn’t about legitimate disagreement about the merits of the proposal; this is about personal political calculation– a conflict of interest between the public good and personal advantage.

These City-County Counselors were elected to serve the constituents in their districts. Those constituents have signaled their belief that improved transit is sufficiently important to them to justify the (relatively minor) tax increase required. Rather than considering the wishes of those constituents, rather than considering the needs of the disabled and elderly people who depend upon transit, or the needs of workers to get to their places of employment without changing buses and enduring lengthy commutes (when they can get there at all–see yesterday’s post), these Councilors are viewing their votes only from the perspective of their personal self-interest.

Why, they might have to defend voting for the public good in a future political campaign!

I can understand why someone representing a district that voted against the referendum would decide to ignore the interests and expressed preferences of the overall community, but when elected officials disregard the wishes and needs of both the overall community and their own constituents in order to protect themselves from potential criticism in a potential future campaign, I find that contemptible.

I think it was Maya Angelou who said “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

And remember them.

Because if those who are threatening to vote no simply to protect themselves from criticism in a future campaign actually follow through with that threat, and if and when they do run for higher office, those of us with a different understanding of “representation” and “integrity” need to make a very public issue of their self-serving behavior.


More Lessons from Canada

Yesterday I shared Canada’s approach to management of government contracts–an approach American government officials would do well to emulate. Today, I want to share two examples of good urban policy from our neighbors to the north.

First, from Vancouver:

In Vancouver, Canada, walking, cycling and public transit are now viable alternatives to driving. Todd Litman blogs on Planetizen that recent data indicate that Vancouver’s “automobile mode share” represents about half of all trips.

By contrast, in most North American cities, personal vehicles are used about 80 percent of the time. Litman is executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Vancouver’s urban planners have worked to make the city easier to navigate without a vehicle. As a result, in addition to the obvious environmental benefits,  Vancouver’s residents spend less money on transportation than urbanites elsewhere, have more opportunities for active lifestyles, and are less likely to be killed in an automobile accident– Vancouver has experienced a sizable drop in traffic fatalities.

Can’t find Place Jacques-Cartier? Curious about the history of Mount Royal? Ian Hardy reports for MobileSyrup that Montreal’s CA$23 million  (US$18.4 million) “smart city” plan would provide easy answers via free public Wi-Fi. The 70 projects to be completed by late 2017 would include real-time updates about buses and subways and digital access for citizens to municipal data.

The city promises to deploy free wireless connectivity at 750 locations. It also would require all major urban development projects to include superfast, wired fiber optic Internet connections, the article says. In addition, Montreal hopes to attract companies and startups that specialize in innovation that improves how cities govern and interact with citizens.

I served in city government “back when”–in an administration committed to making Indianapolis a place where people would want to live, a forward-looking city with a great quality of life. That was back when we still had planners…back before the entire focus of state and local government became keeping taxes low by providing only the most essential services at the lowest possible cost, before we took to selling off public assets to make budgets work.

Before the word “government” became a sneer.


Travel Tales, or Civilization’s Discontents

Monday I participated in the final round of judging for this year’s We the People—an all-day exercise that left me and most of the other judges exhausted, but so impressed by the depth of knowledge and poised delivery of these high-school students from all over the country. Tuesday—yesterday—it was time to come home.

My husband makes fun of my obsessive-compulsive need to be at the airport well before flight time. Yesterday proved how wrong he is.

The Mason Inn, where we were staying, is on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, just outside Washington, D.C.  When I arrived, the trip there by cab from Washington National airport took about 45 minutes. Ever the cautious sort, I scheduled a taxi for 8:45 for my 11:00 flight, and was gratified when it arrived about five minutes early. Plenty of time to get to the airport—or so I thought.

The cab driver told me it was still rush hour, so it would probably take an hour to get there. What happened next was absolutely surreal: the traffic on the (badly misnamed) expressway was stop and start nearly the entire way. I’ve seen gridlock, but nothing comparable to this; I kept looking for a reason—a wreck, a stalled car, merging lanes—anything that would explain the bumper-to-bumper traffic. I saw nothing.

It took us an hour and forty minutes to get to the U.S. Air terminal. I had thirty stressful minutes to get through Reagan’s always-long security lines (staffed, I might note, with people who took an incredibly laid-back and leisurely approach to their duties), and my flight was almost through boarding when I made it to the gate.

Other than confirming my belief that when you are flying, you should always allow more time than you think you will need, the slowed-to-a-stop traffic was a sobering cautionary tale. The moral?  Automobile travel is ultimately unsustainable. We cannot build enough highways, pave enough municipal landscape, to ease the congestion. If humans are to get from point A to point B, a substantial number of us will need access to public transportation.

A train from the Mason Inn to the airport would take perhaps thirty minutes. Furthermore, it would take a reliable thirty minutes that one could schedule and depend on.  (I might note that a train—or even express buses—would also emit far fewer pollutants into our atmosphere.)

If I had to drive in traffic like that I saw yesterday, I’d have an ulcer–or persistent road rage.

When you consider how much it costs to buy, operate, insure and maintain a car, and the hours of productive time wasted in lengthy and unpredictable commutes, you start to understand the insanity of America’s car culture and its negative impact on our quality of life.

I didn’t think I could get any angrier at the Indiana legislature for once again derailing mass transit for Indianapolis, but yesterday proved I was wrong–I can get angrier, especially when I wonder how long it will take for Indianapolis’ highways to look like those I traveled yesterday.