Indiana’s GOP: Is it Roll-Back Time?

January 10, 2011

For release noon Jan. 11 and thereafter (549 words)

One of Indiana’s most respected Republican politicians, a conservative by the popular measure, acknowledged recently that he had made a “whopper” of a mistake in public policy many years ago.

Alas, one man’s mistake, if he is powerful enough, is another man’s disaster. This particular one abided a collective-bargaining system that now cripples Indiana finances even as it thwarts reform across the full spectrum of state issues. For many years our new friend led a faction that shut out expertise and made timely change impossible.

So should those responsible be hounded from public life? What about a GOP hierarchy that sat on its hands? How about the Indianapolis newspapers, blogs and television stations that could not summon the courage to speak truth to power?

Reasonable questions, surely, considering the damage. But it would be better to first try to enlist them anew in our state’s search for a future that works.

These officeholders and opinion leaders learned much from a mid-term election that brought working GOP majorities to both the Indiana House and Senate. They might be willing to listen, they might be open to alternative approaches.

Yes, if only we could agree on what exactly was learned.

Ryan Cummins, in a recent column for The Indiana Policy Review, has it about right: “The election meant that it is time, long past time, government be limited in its scope and expense, reducing the burden on taxpayers and beginning the restoration of the economic, social and individual liberties that are our rights as citizens.”

But that’s just one opinion. There is a countervailing view. It warns that Republicans should be careful not to over-interpret the elections.

This view argues that the economy is an actor in its own right, impervious to changes in public policy. In other words: “See no mandate, hear no mandate, speak no mandate.”

Thus does a Republican secretary of education justify the teacher union.

Thus does a Republican governor pour cold water on a right-to-work bill.

And thus does the Republican speaker of the House seat two Democrats in chairmanships.

This is not moderation or bipartisanship, thinks the political scientist, James Ceaser. Rather, it is an attempt by a political class to get the rank and file to accept or at least forget overreaching, inattentive or downright failed policies.

“If Republicans are to remain true to the verdict of 2010, the message of this election cannot be merely containment; it must be roll-back,” insists Ceaser in a much-discussed article for the Claremont Review of Books.

Are we rolling anything back in Indiana?

Last week, the new chairman of the GOP, Eric Holcolmb, challenged Hoosiers to to bring their solutions to the table. Assuming the Chairman Holcolmb is sincere, he will want to begin with a repudiation of mandatory public-sector collective bargaining, the single most disastrous policy decision in the state’s history.

Then he can move on to the many other solutions based on sound economic principles, not accounting tricks, that in the interest of incumbency have been assigned to the margins of politically feasibility.

Now that there are the votes, perhaps Republicans can turn whopping mistakes into whopping solutions.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarter Indiana Policy Review. Contact him at


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