Republicans have such a strong grip on Indiana — holding the governor’s office and super majorities in both legislative chambers — that it is difficult to see beyond the fact. It sometimes feels as though it must have always been so and always will be so.
A reminder: It’s true that the Indiana Senate has been virtually an impregnable GOP fortress — Democrats last controlled it in the late 1970s. But the governor’s office has changed parties often, and Democrats have been highly competitive for House seats. It was just back in 2010 when they last ran it, and if we go back to 1992 (the history covered by Ballotpedia), they’ve actually held it 15 times to the Republicans’ 14.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, then, that they could win the House again. And sometimes, in my darkest, most cynical mood — get ready to throw the apostate out of the congregation, fellow conservatives and libertarians — I wish they would.
I had one of those moods the other day when I started thinking about ideas Democrats have proposed in this General Assembly session. The vote for 16-year-olds. Recreational marijuana. Euthanasia. More gun control. Higher minimum wage.
It would perhaps be unfair to call these fringe ideas, but they certainly have no chance of passage in Indiana. Democrats certainly know this, so they must feel they have no choice. If they can’t hope to achieve legislative success, why not just throw out the red meat their base wants to feast on?
It’s not as noticeable, but Republicans aren’t behaving all that well, either. They can do whatever they please, and they make sure we know they know it. They’re as likely as not to vote on a proposal we’ve heard nothing about that they have thoroughly mapped out in private meetings. That’s the action of an exclusive club, not a political party held together by core beliefs and a coherent philosophy.
If Democrats were to win back the House, I can think of a couple of possible benefits.
The most obvious one is that Democrats would start proposing more sensible ideas. If they believe a proposal could actually result in a bill, they might start thinking more about what a majority of Hoosiers would tolerate, even, heaven forbid, welcome. They would, of necessity, have to woo support from across the aisle.
The other benefit — even more important — is that Republicans would have to actually defend their ideas, which they haven’t seen the need to do in recent years. As someone who’s made a living by arguing, I believe that would help them see the weaknesses in their proposals and result in stronger legislation.
Hoosier voters would be the ultimate beneficiaries. If they got more common sense from one side and more willingness to debate from the other, they would be more informed about their state government. They could hear facts from both sides about the (modest, incremental, sensible) changes proposed to the rules they must live by.
Let me try to talk myself off the ledge before I get thrown off. If it’s true that hard cases make bad law, it’s also likely that dark moods beget foolishly idealistic hopes. My fantasy legislature would require more reasonableness from Republicans, highly doubtful, and less pious pondering from Democrats, almost inconceivable.
Democrats seeking the presidency, after all, are running against a Republican who was hated by half the country as a candidate and has had the most controversial incumbency in modern history. As more than one observer has noted, all they have to do to win back the White House is not sound crazy.
And they can’t even manage that.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at email@example.com.