The Inscrutable Statehouse
“Indiana Government Has Grown so Complex
There Are not Enough Reporters or Even Informed
Activists to Stay With its Twists and Turns.”
Can anybody anymore know what’s going on in the Statehouse?
That is not a flippant question.Our constitutional democracy, if that is any longer the right description, increasingly defies understanding. This General Assembly left even the hardest working Statehouse reporters exhausted and scratching their heads. For example:
- Last week, a respected Indiana metropolitan newspaper heralded on its front page what it thought were historic education reforms. It had to report a few days later that nothing had really happened.
- While the Senate was still debating, and a full hour before the first vote was cast, the Indiana Democratic Party reportedly announced in a fundraising e-mail that the special session had ended.
- Even the governor’s office reportedly congratulated lawmakers on getting rid of the “ridiculous” prohibition against using test scores in teacher evaluations (they hadn’t).
Only one commentator called the session accurately. He was Dr. Cecil Bohanon, a political economists at Ball State University, and his prediction was that our general assemblies were no longer predictable.
A student rather than a critic, Dr. Bohanon does not blame the legislators or their political parties. Indiana government, he notes, has generally and with bipartisan recklessness fallen into the trap of many democracies — it tries to do too much for too many.
As a result, to use the simplistic keynote of a stump speech, it‘s too big and spends too much. Bohanon, however, is more profound than that. He narrows the focus to just this: The problem with bigness is not necessarily spending, it is accountability.
“One side seems to think that there is an endless untapped supply of citizen sacrifice to monitor an ever-expanding state,” he explains. “The other side recognizes the importance of citizen oversight in a free society but recognizes its supply is limited.”
There is no doubt which side is winning; Indiana government has grown so complex there are not enough reporters or even informed activists to stay with its twists and turns. There’s simply too much going on. We are at the mercy of last-minute deals, spin doctors and fast-talking lobbyists.
Bohanon warns that if we want the Statehouse to be reportable again — that is, accountable again — we must stop piling more and more obligations on both government and on us. It is as Thomas Jefferson said so long ago: The government that governs least is the government that governs best.
“The irony is that the more as a society we demand and expect from government, the less we get,” adds Bohanon. “Only by conserving legislative attention and citizen oversight can things get better.”
The experienceof this last session should be reason enough for the Statehouse leadership to give Bohanon’s idea a try. As for the rest of us, there’s not much to lose.
Niki Kelly. “Education Provisions Weakened at 11th Hour.” The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, July 7, 2009.
Cecil Bohanon, Ph.D. “Making Sense of the Legislature.” The Indiana Policy Review, fall 2006.