Oh, Indiana….

Monday evening, I spoke to the League of Women Voters in Ft. Wayne about women, the midterms–and the effective disenfranchisement of voters in Indiana. I’m posting an abbreviated version of my remarks below.

The results of the 2022 midterm elections stunned political observers who had anticipated a politics-as-usual rout of the party in control of the White House—especially this time, when the omens for the Democrats were very negative.

As we know, that Red wave failed to materialize. Democrats held the Senate, and lost the House by a margin small enough to complicate Republican plans to thwart Biden’s agenda. To say that these results were unprecedented is an understatement. And while it is never accurate to attribute the outcome of an election to a single cause, the data clearly points to the overwhelming importance of women voters, and their anger over Dobbs.

The Republican Party’s war on women’s autonomy is a relatively recent phenomenon. When I ran for Congress in 1980, I was pro-choice and pro-gay-rights, and I decisively won a Republican primary here in deep-Red Indiana. Since then, the GOP has become the party of fundamentalist Christians, cultural conservatives and Christian Nationalists, and in response, women voters have shown a growing preference for Democratic candidates. The Dobbs decision, overruling Roe v. Wade, supercharged what was already a substantial gender gap.

Dobbs attacked the doctrine of substantive due process, often called the right to privacy. That’s shorthand for the principle that in a free society, there are personal decisions that should not be made by government. The doctrine draws a line between the myriad issues appropriate for resolution by majorities acting through government, and decisions that government in a free society has no business making.

The constitutional question is “who gets to make this decision?”

The deeply dishonest ruling in Dobbs would allow fundamental rights–to bodily autonomy, to the choice of a marriage partner, to decisions about procreation– to be decided by legislatures  that have theoretically been chosen by “democratic” majorities.

I say “theoretically because in states like Indiana, gerrymandering allows lawmakers to choose their voters, rather than the other way around.

The decision in Dobbs is part of a larger problem—one that the League is clearly aware of.  I think it is fair to say that, if American democracy was working properly, it is unlikely we would be here. Our governing institutions would reflect the policy preferences of large majorities of voters. But our democracy is not working properly, and gerrymandering may be the single most destructive element of our multiple electoral dysfunctions.

Partisan redistricting undermines democracy and voter choice; in a rapidly urbanizing country, it has given rural voters—who reliably vote Republican—vastly disproportionate political power. Thanks to gerrymandering, for example, the last Republican Senate “majority” was elected with 20 million fewer votes than the Democratic “minority.” Gerrymandering has insulated lawmakers from democratic accountability. In the run-up to the 2000 election, the nonpartisan Cook Report calculated that only one out of twenty Americans lived in a genuinely competitive Congressional District.

Gerrymandering has also weakened the GOP and abetted its takeover by extremists. Thanks to the Republicans’ very skillful and successful national gerrymander in 2010–a redistricting that created a large number of deep-red Congressional districts– many of the candidates who won those districts no longer saw any reason to cooperate with national party figures, or work for the party’s national priorities.  Former Speaker John Boehner dubbed those Representatives the “lunatic caucus”–they knew that the only real threat to their re-election would come from being primaried by someone even farther to the Right, and that they would pay no price for ignoring the over-arching needs of the national party.

It is important to recognize that the erosion of democratic self-government– making a mockery of the ideal of “one person, one vote”– also poses a threat to women’s continued economic and political progress. That is because, as democratic systems falter, it is the theocrats and rightwing populists who stand ready to assume control. The growth of populism over the past decade has been global; in the United States, its appeal is based largely on nostalgia for an imaginary past in which “those people”—Black, Brown, female, gay–knew their place and no one questioned the rightful dominance of the White Christian Male. To say that such a worldview threatens women’s progress is to belabor the obvious.

Just over 100 years have passed since women finally secured the right to vote. The recent midterm elections made it very clear that most women in America have no intention of relinquishing the hard-won rights that followed enfranchisement– including the all-important right to control our own reproduction.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest that in November of this year, the votes of American women saved democracy.

But then, of course, there was Indiana. We were the only state to elect an election-denier as Secretary of State, and Indiana kept its legislative Republican super-majority

The reason Indiana is deeply uncompetitive? Gerrymandering.

I served on the legislative study committee formed in response to the efforts of the League and Common Cause, and watched as most  Republicans on that committee ignored data and evidence and the huge turnout of Hoosier voters at every public meeting who demanded reform. It became very clear that the beneficiaries of gerrymandering will never voluntarily give up the power to keep themselves in control.

Other states have combatted gerrymandering via state constitutional amendment. But Hoosiers will never have the opportunity to vote on such an amendment. Indiana has no referendum or initiation process.  Amendments to Indiana’s constitution can only be put on the ballot through referral from the legislature, and the legislature must pass precisely the same language in two separate sessions. In other words, the super-majority that benefits from gerrymandering would have to vote—in two separate legislative sessions—to put the matter to a popular vote.

That will happen when pigs fly. (Pigs may fly first…)

Gerrymandering results in voter apathy and reduced political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Thanks to the lack of competitiveness, Indiana’s turnout in the midterms was abysmal.

The creation of safe districts makes it very difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. As a result, in many of these races, even when there are competing candidates on the ballot, the reality is usually a “choice” between a heavily favored incumbent and a marginal opposing candidate. In many statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor runs unopposed.

So–what can Hoosier voters do?

We can certainly hope for passage of the federal “For the People Act,” which would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, ban partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders.

In Indiana, we can work through organizations like the League to get out the vote—encouraging people who have concluded that their votes won’t count to reconsider, and especially encouraging them to vote in the primaries, which are dominated by the ideological extremes in both parties. A high turnout would demonstrate that a number of supposedly safe districts aren’t so safe when more people vote..

We can try to recruit candidates in both parties who are willing to run on an anti-gerrymandering platform.

We can continue efforts to educate voters, and explain why gerrymandering is so pernicious.

And we can lobby for the right to initiate constitutional amendments.

But the reality is, in the absence of federal action, Indiana citizens who want change are effectively disenfranchised.


I Think I’m Moving To New Zealand

In the wake of the mass murder of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, I have seen the leadership and citizenry of that country exhibit what I used to believe were American characteristics of goodheartedness and solidarity.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response was nothing short of inspiring. And then I came across this Time Magazine report:

Women across New Zealand are wearing headscarves in a show of support for the Muslim community, one week after 50 people were shot dead in two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

Women and children have posted pictures of themselves wearing headscarves on social media Friday, with words denouncing last week’s violence and expressing solidarity with victims of the shooting. “I stand with our Muslim community today and against hate and violence of any kind,” one Twitter user wrote.

What a contrast with our blathering, self-besotted President and his white supremicist  supporters, who have made it abundantly clear that they view Muslims–and for that matter, anyone with dark skin tones or religious views other than fundamentalist Christianity–as dangerous, illegitimate and even less than human.

While Trump supporters are chanting “build the wall,” which even they must know is an entirely symbolic edifice meant to emphasize our country’s disdain–if not hatred–for those they consider “other,” New Zealand women were engaged in an equally symbolic gesture of goodwill:

Auckland physician Thaya Ashman told Reuters she thought up the “Headscarf For Harmony” event after seeing a Muslim woman on the news say she was too afraid to go outside wearing a hijab. “I wanted to say: We are with you, we want you to feel at home on your own streets, we love, support and respect you,” she said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wore a black headscarf during her meeting with members of the Muslim community–a gesture of respect that I cannot imagine being copied by anyone in the Trump administration.

I’ve never been to New Zealand. I’ve seen photos, including those posted by my oldest granddaughter, who recently vacationed there, and the landscape is magnificent. A friend who is a healthcare scholar tells me the country has an excellent national health system. I’ve heard the weather is wonderful too.

But the country’s climate of goodwill and civility–demonstrated in the wake of this tragedy– is the most attractive feature of all.

If I were younger….


The GOP’s Sexist Culture

I need to vent.

I realize I live in a bubble. On my campus and in my neighborhood, I just don’t encounter people like those who are dismissing the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh as “politically motivated,” or even worse, accepting their accuracy but dismissing their importance.

Senate Republicans have deliberately chosen to embrace Kellyanne Conway’s “alternate facts,” and the conspiracy theories so beloved by Donald Trump and to disregard their constitutional obligation to objectively review this nominee.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, the attacks on Dr. Ford have a lot in common with  “birtherism.”  To disbelieve her accusation, you need to believe that Ford knew years ago, when confiding in her therapist and her husband, that Kavanaugh would someday be a nominee to the Supreme Court, and so she carefully planted incriminating evidence. And Obama’s mother knew the day she had him that some day he’d run for President, so she sent his birth announcement from Kenya to the Hawaii newspapers…


We don’t yet know what similarly bizarre theories will be offered to rebut the additional accusations that have emerged, or to justify Kavanaugh’s clear disinterest in an FBI investigation which–if he isn’t lying through his teeth– would clear his name.

What we do know is that we live in a patriarchal culture that continues to devalue women and denigrate the significance of our experiences.

We also know that Senate Republicans are so frantic to “capture” the Supreme Court and protect their radically right-wing agenda, that they were willing to breach their constitutional duty to “advise and consent” in order to deny President Obama his choice of (a very moderate) Merrick Garland. As Trump’s “slam-dunk” choice has turned out to be not so slam-dunk, their dismay is understandable.

Their misogyny is not.

The Senate GOP found out about the newest allegations two days before they became public. Their response?  An effort to speed up the confirmation vote–Not concern over determining the truth of the matter, nor hesitation about the consequences of elevating a person who might prove to be a liar and  sexual predator to the highest court in the land.

The most striking aspect of GOP Senators’ reaction to each of these revelations has been their utter tone-deafness. Lindsey Graham says he’s willing to listen to Dr. Ford, but then adds “What am I supposed to do? Go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation?”

Other (white Christian male) Republican Senators have similarly pre-judged Kavanaugh’s behavior–after all, he was “only” 17. Ford was “confused.” Trump, of course, tweeted that if the incident had really been as bad as she described, she should have reported it then and there. (I may be wrong, but I don’t think any of the 19 women who have accused Trump of sexual assaults made a contemporaneous report…)

The overwhelming message coming from the GOP is: sexually assaulting a woman shouldn’t matter. It’s no big deal.

If it did happen, he was young. And white and privileged.

Of course, if it did happen–and logic and evidence strongly suggest that it did (she told her therapist years ago, has passed a lie detector test and has asked for an FBI investigation)–then Kavanaugh has clearly lied to the Senate.  Surely that should matter.

Despite the Republicans’ ham-handed efforts to avoid the public relations mistakes made during the Anita Hill hearings, the message that America’s women are hearing loud and clear is that our testimony will always be discounted, our motives will always be impugned, and offenses against us will always be considered less important than the continued enjoyment of power and status by our male superiors.

Unfortunately for the GOP, however, and as much as they would clearly like to withdraw the franchise, we can–and will– vote.


Women Are Always The Ones Cleaning Up….

The revelations about Harvey Weinstein–not to mention Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and a growing cast of other characters–have seemingly opened floodgates of pent-up female anger. The #metoo hashtag on social media, and the daily reports of confessions and accusations have been accompanied by a veritable tsunami of rage and recrimination.

Sex sells newspapers (or as we say these days, motivates clicks). But the attention paid to the problem isn’t just a way to sell media;  the revelations are clearly newsworthy, and the anger is justifiable. Most women–especially those of us who entered the workforce as so-called “pioneers”– can relate. We all have our stories, and I’m not exempt. On the other hand, we’ll be making a big mistake if our focus on sexual predators and harassment stories distracts from the emergence of another important wave of bipartisan feminine activism.

I think it is fair to say that a huge number of American women saw the 2016 election results as an existential threat to women’s equality and the well-being of our children and grandchildren.

The Women’s March was the first signal that–like Howard Beale in “Network”–we were “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” It was just the beginning.

Last weekend, I moderated a couple of panels in a day-and-a-half training event called “Ready to Run.” It was geared to women interested in running for public office at any level, and sessions explored the basics of a political campaign: research, fundraising, messaging. A couple hundred women from all over Indiana filled the ballroom at Hine Hall on the IUPUI campus: they were Republicans and Democrats and Independents, white and black and brown, Muslim, Christian and Jewish. Most had never run for or held political office–or thought they ever would.

But they were thinking about it now. Seriously.

What struck me about the attendees and their interactions and questions was a repeated emphasis on what they wanted to accomplish: a government characterized by civility and integrity–two words I heard over and over.

There’s an old saying in political circles to the effect that men run for office because they want to be someone, and women run because they want to do something. That’s obviously an unfair generalization, but the women I met at Ready to Run (like those working through Women4Change, one of the day’s sponsors) clearly want to make government work again. They understand government’s importance; they also understand that making government work properly will require research and knowledge–a familiarity with the operations of the agency or branch they propose to join, certainly, but also an understanding of the “big picture.” They are willing to study, to do the work necessary to acquire what I’ve sometimes called “constitutional competence”–a genuine understanding of our American approach to self-government.

Right now in Indiana, women have announced their candidacies for several Congressional seats and a number of legislative ones. Others are considering running for local school boards and city councils. If even a third of the attendees at “Ready to Run” follow through and win offices, we will see some pretty profound changes in Indiana. Even those who lose, however, will elevate the conversation and hold incumbents accountable.

Right now, a lot of women have just had it–both with the sexual predators who make it hard to do our jobs, and with the preening and power-hungry politicians who are more invested in their own importance than in making government work for its citizens. And when women have had it, things change.

It’s like that refrigerator magnet says: When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.


The Culture of Inequality

This month, we have had two reminders of the ways in which culture and cultural assumptions shape notions of equality.

For the first time ever in the United States, a woman was nominated for the Presidency by a major political party. And in much of the country, Pride Week was celebrated in June—a time for public celebrations of the LGBT community’s movement toward civic and legal equality.

When Americans talk about the social marginalization of a group of people based upon their identity, we tend to think in terms of individual rights and fundamental fairness. Those of us supporting civic inclusion and legal equality point—justifiably—to the importance of treating people as the individuals they are, judging people on their personal merits and not dismissing (or elevating) them on the basis of their group identity.

Those opposed to equal treatment for members of minority populations often justify disparate treatment on religious grounds (“the bible says”), or—like a certain deceased Supreme Court Justice—on the stabilizing effect and social importance of tradition. (These tend to be white heterosexual men who have been socialized to see women, blacks, gays, Jews, Muslims, etc. as “other;” as members of a class enjoying more privileged status, they see no reason to disturb a status quo that benefits them.)

What sometimes gets lost in these discussions are the very practical, very tangible economic consequences of membership in a disfavored minority.

The economic gap between whites and blacks has been too pronounced to ignore, of course; the legacy of slavery, the oppression of Jim Crow and the more subtle but no less devastating results of the “new Jim Crow”—the drug war—are vivid examples of what happens to people when you make it difficult or impossible for them to compete on a level playing field. Only people determined to ignore reality refuse to recognize the economic consequences of that degree of systematic oppression.

That economic inequality is also a consequence of the marginalization of women and LGBT citizens, however, is less widely appreciated.

When women point out that they make 78 cents for each dollar a man earns, those defending the status quo point to the fact that women disproportionately “choose” lower-paying professions, or take time out of the workforce to raise families. The conversation rarely considers the role culture plays in constraining women’s “choices” or shaping employers’ expectations. Occasionally, an academic study will compare women’s status in countries where the cultural assumptions facilitate government provision of day care and other safety-net supports for working women. (Not so coincidentally, several of those countries elected women to high office years ago.)

Because LGBT employees are not immediately recognizable, there is an assumption that they do not face the same sorts of employment discrimination as women or African-Americans. That, of course, is true only for those who remain in the closet. In many states, including my own Indiana, LGBT people are not protected by civil rights laws, so the decision to come out can be risky. When your continued employment and/or promotion depends upon the goodwill of your boss rather than your legal entitlements, your economic situation is precarious. As American cultural norms have changed, and bias against LGBT people has diminished, more companies have instituted anti-discrimination policies, and more states have expanded their civil rights protections, but it is still a work in progress.

Bottom line: social inequality is almost never only social. It translates into fewer job opportunities, a reduced likelihood of promotion, less access to credit and the kinds of networks that work to the benefit of privileged populations—all of which means greater economic insecurity.

In a society where some are more equal than others, some will be more economically secure than others. A culture that treats individuals equally, no matter what their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, is a society that is more likely to offer employment security and equal pay for equal work.

Of course, a culture that values all of its citizens is also unlikely to countenance a huge disparity between the rich and the rest. But that’s a post for another day.