The Outstater: Democracy by the Distant and Detached

August 24, 2016

(For the use of the membersip only.)

SO, AFTER 12 YEARS of Republican leadership, four of them with a super majority, now with a place on the GOP presidential ticket, what could be wrong?

At the top of my list is the absence of serious education reform, the kind detailed in the current issue of The Indiana Policy Review. Systemic change has been pushed aside at the Statehouse with a “not the right time.” Republicans in an election year would rather talk about economic accomplishments. Their record there, however, is run-of-the-mill.

A sponsored post is popping up on Facebook this week proclaiming: “Under Republican leadership in Indiana, wages have been on the rise; let’s continue our economic momentum.”

Indiana, though, scores low on the three variables that make up this year’s American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) “Economic Performance Ranking.” These are the variables most influenced by legislative decisions rather than national trends.

The variables and Indiana’s ranking are: state gross domestic product (37th), absolute domestic migration (34th), non-farm payroll employment (39th). Interestingly, two variables on which Indiana ranked highest dealt with issues on which the GOP leadership had dragged its heels: repeal of the estate-inheritance tax and passage of right to work.

The leadership seems content — pleased, even — that Indiana is no better than average and a couple of years behind. That tells me I am being ruled by a political class that is hedging its bet (a tax cut here, a tax increase there, a bit of crony capitalism over there). You make fewer enemies, you minimize contentious floor votes, you stay in office.

That may be harsh. Perhaps the uncertain economic times call for hanging back when it comes to taking risks with tax revenue, even to attract jobs and investment. Certainly, stepping forward can be career-endangering. Ask Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas.

Brownback, after pushing through what Forbes Magazine called a “bold and forward-thinking” tax program, is now a pariah. The “Kanzoids,” as the state’s congressional staffers occasionally call their constituencies, are in an uproar. Schools are said to be falling apart, roads degrading, etc.

No matter that the real problem, as usual, is poor spending priorities in a legislature, one unaccustomed to having so little money to waste (the state spends 34 percent more than comparable states, according to Forbes). For the so-called “Kansas Experiment” is as impressive as it is unreported. Private-sector jobs there in the 14 proceeding years grew by just 2.3 percent total (or .02 percent per year). Over the last three years, private-sector employment has almost doubled, one of the reasons Kansas overall is 27th to Indiana’s 40th on that ALEC ranking.

Which leads to a second failing on my list — local identity. The GOP has fallen into the Democrat habit of choosing political leaders whose priority is being political leaders. But the reward for public service should be nothing more involved than returning to your hometown accountable to your friends and neighbors — a Trumanesque vision, to use some Democrat lingo. Politics should not be merely a ticket out of here.

Has anyone seen Richard Lugar lately? Dan Quayle? David McIntosh? Dan Coats? Steve Goldsmith? Evan Bayh? (Oops, there he is.) In defense of such expatriates, former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette over the weekend that the question isn’t of legal residency, Rather, it is of intent, and that, says Hamilton, “can be argued every which way,”

Well, let’s argue it this way: Our elected representatives, with exceptions too few to matter, think of us not as neighbors but as “aliens whose bizarre emotions they must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage,” to use Peggy Noonan’s construction.

Empathy? Increasingly, they’ve never had a real job. A widely circulated set of Washington Post GIFs shows how “public service” or “politics” is overtaking other occupations listed for U.S. congressmen.

After these 12 years, the best of us seem to think that returning to our home state and honest work is something to be avoided at all cost, even if that means putting off difficult issues critical to our future. That is disturbing every which way you argue it.

— Craig Ladwig



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