The Outstater: Republicanism’s ‘Big Mistake’

May 4, 2014

“We stand athwart history, yelling stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” — William F. Buckley in his 1955 mission statement for National Review magazine

 

INDIANA IS AN EXAMPLE, a bad one, of what a friend dubs “Republicanism,” the tendency, when in the majority, to trade away an electoral mandate in the interest of appearing reasonable.

Bipartisanship may feel good but politics isn’t tiddlywinks. Indeed, to twist Clausewitz, it is war by other means. So when, exactly, should a Hoosier Republican hold the line?

There are two markers set down in our political history, points in time when the GOP should have manned up. In both cases, being thought of as reasonable carried too heavy a cost.

State Income Tax

The first was the GOP’s decades-old acquiescence to a very, very bad Democrat idea. It was rationalized as only a small step — an eminently “reasonable” one, of course — to put government on a business-like footing. It was the state income tax.

In their new book, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore include Indiana among the 11 states they use to illustrate the cost of making what they call “the big mistake.” The political promise was the same in each state: The damage of an income tax would be minimal but the increase in public services would be considerable.

That promise was not fulfilled. The study breaks out comparisons of subsequent state performance:

Collective Bargaining

It is one of Indiana history’s ironies that the law giving the teacher unions a headlock on statehouse business was put forward by a popular conservative Republican governor.

Collective bargaining for the unions was the concession Democrats extracted for passage of a property-tax reform. The reform, compromised by subsequent legislation, soon fell apart. Public-sector collective bargaining lives on.

The Indiana Policy Review Foundation commissioned an assessment of the 1973 Collective Bargaining Law (CBL) that compared the labor agreements of all 295 Indiana school districts. It found the contracts practically identical even though written by independent school boards. It was testimony to the statewide control of the unions and their empowerment by the CBL.

The opening section of the CBL statute pertains to our argument here. The General Assembly makes references to “harmonious and cooperative relationships,” the alleviation of “various forms of strife and unrest” and the state’s obligation to “protect the public” from “material interference” in the educational process.

The adoption of the CBL was partly in response to threats from the teacher unions but, clearly, it also was an involuntary twitch of that Republican compulsion to just get along.

So we slumped into the spring primaries not only falling behind the leading states in economic growth but powerless over our own tax and budget processes. The Indiana State Teachers Association, no longer operating as a union but rather as a political machine, retains the ability to thwart any initiative, challenge any campaign. And the Indiana Republican Party, with a conservative governor and majorities in both houses, is too gentlemanly to challenge the state of affairs.

The optimist in us says there is time. Leadership can decide to give up on Republicanism and progressive governing. It can return the GOP to a useful role in public policy — sitting athwart history and yelling stop.

Yes, it is unreasonable, but it is critical.

— Craig Ladwig

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Resources

Charles M. Freeland. “Public Education Without Romance: The Impact of Collective Bargaining on Indiana Schools.” The Indiana Policy Review, Winter 2002.

Arthur Laffer, Stephen Moore et al. “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States.” John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, N.J., 2014.



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