David Hoppe

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:: These Republicans ain't no party

The social undoing of Indiana

By David Hoppe

I used to think there wasn't much difference between Republicans and Democrats in Indiana. "Republicrat" seemed an apt way of describing this state's genus politicalus.

That was before Republicans took control of the Statehouse.

In last November's elections, Republicans added six members to their majority in the state Senate. In the House, where Democrats had previously held a one-vote advantage, the Republicans really romped, adding 19 seats.

Factor in Republican governor Mitch Daniels and you have what amounts to one-party rule.

This year's legislative session has been a crash course in what one-party rule - make that Republican party rule - looks like. In just a few weeks, Republican politicians appear to have set the stage to roll back the 21 st century and deposit Indiana in a time capsule dated 1920-something.

Republicans have gone on a legislative bender. So far, they have put forth a bill aimed at creating a draconian immigration law based on racial profiling. Then there is the proposal to allow people to carry guns and ammunition into a variety of public places, while restricting the ability of communities to regulate guns. If Republicans have their way, Indiana will have one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, and Planned Parenthood could find its funding to provide reproductive health services to disadvantaged women slashed. A Republican plan to change the way schools are funded will divert public money to private schools, cut funding for urban districts where student enrollments are decreasing, and further accelerate what has clearly become the dismantling of the state's public education system.

And as if all this wasn't enough, Republicans have renewed their campaign to write second-class citizenship into the state's constitution by putting forth a discriminatory amendment that not only bans gay marriage, but refuses to recognize any form of legal partnership, like civil unions, between same-sex couples.

As has been pointed out countless times in the past, Indiana already has a law making gay marriage illegal. That's not good enough for state Republicans. They seem to sense the fundamental unfairness of the law. They know it could be challenged in court and that, someday, a judge might rule it unconstitutional.

So they want to write this unfairness into the constitution itself.

That'll fix those gays. It will be the equivalent of a sign saying "Stay Away!"

What appears to have escaped the state's Republican defenders of heterosexuality is that their insistence on granting privileges to some people, while outlawing those privileges for others, actually makes Indiana appear not virtuous but backward. The Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce has gone on record in opposition to the amendment because its members fear it proclaims Indiana to be intolerant and unwelcoming.

But there's the rub. The state's Republicans could care less what people think in Indianapolis. Indeed, as one reads through this session's legislative checklist, it's hard not to see what amounts to a strong anti-urban bias. Indianapolis has become a significant point of entry for Mexican immigrants. It also has a significant problem with gun violence. Many women are drawn to the city because it affords greater access to reproductive health care than is found in rural communities. And while the city's public school system has seen declining enrollment, it has also been called on to play a greater and more complex role in the lives of the students who remain.

Indianapolis has also become a Democratic political stronghold, as well as an oasis of relative economic prosperity compared with the rest of Indiana. I suspect these characteristics are not lost on Republican legislators whose constituencies share a history of mistrust and resentment toward the city.

The feeling that Indianapolis somehow profits at a cost to the rest of the state has been an article of bad faith in outlying communities for years. This prejudice has probably been exacerbated by Indiana's overall lack of economic vitality. This year's Republican obsession with social legislation reflects that party's basic inability to actually do anything about creating jobs or truly improving the state's feeble economy.

It also speaks to Gov. Daniels' lack of leadership. It's ironic that the governor's presidential bonafides are being touted by national pundits at the very moment legislators in his own party appear to be rolling him. Whatever else Daniels may be, he is a businessman. Surely he knows that his party's obsessions with immigration, women's reproductive rights and gay rights are not only wasting valuable time that could spent on local government reforms, but are painting Indiana into a competitive corner in relationship to other states.

Daniels spent significant time and money campaigning for Republicans in the months leading up to November's election. He wanted to make sure he got the majorities that now hold sway in the Statehouse. That he has yet to call in his markers, to impose some semblance of discipline on what, so far, has been a runaway train, makes him either impotent or complicit in what will be remembered as the social undoing of Indiana by his party and his party alone -- the state's Republicans.