The Crash Landing of a Supermajority

March 16, 2018

by Craig Ladwig

A prominent Indiana Republican stopped by a few days before this session ended to deliver a self-aggrandizing lecture on the difference between holding office and merely “spouting philosophy.” There was a day that some of us here would have conceded the point. Today is not that day.

A Republican supermajority made a mess of the General Assembly, and a philosophy-free leadership is to blame. The Statehouse burned this week while people skilled in running for office gave parties for themselves.

Not a surprise, really. Republicans end every session in frustration and surprise that one bloc of GOP votes or another refuses on principle to abide. It is why reporters have so much trouble predicting for readers which bills will pass in the final days and hours. Their philosophy-free sources in high office don’t have a clue.

So what went wrong, what always goes wrong? Over the previous days, months and years, Party leaders failed to instill the discipline that — on the Republican side, at least — only comes when there is a shared philosophy.

The Indiana Policy Review tries to help in a recent edition, publishing a reading list especially tailored to the work of legislating. It includes the writing that forms the basis of our state and republic: Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia”; Benjamin Constant’s “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns”; Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”; and Frederic Bastiat’s “Selected Essays on Political Economy.” A few years earlier, we had hand-delivered the same list to each legislator.

To no avail, if recent sessions of the supermajority are judge. Last year the foundation commissioned an audit of the 1,250 bills introduced that session, sorting and grading them in 21 categories. Noting the absurdly wide variety of problems that Indiana politicians presume to solve, we found that even in the more conservative Senate for every bill introduced that would shrink government there were seven that would make it larger.

Democrats, of course, avoid the drudgery of reading dead, white men by throwing philosophy out the window from the start. They are united to the man, woman and everyone in between in a simple, venal desire to stay in office at whatever cost — the default, philosophy-free setting of the globe.

But that is another essay. For now, let’s define a philosophy that any group of Republicans can understand. It is in a sentence to prefer smaller government, not necessarily because it keeps taxes low but so that common citizens can keep an eye on things. Our friend, Dr. Cecil Bohanon, said it in an article for us some years ago:

“Why do legislatures consistently fall short of expectations? To foreshadow the answer, it is not because of a lack of virtue or good will on the part of either legislators or citizens. It is rather an inherent, unalterable part of the democratic process. The irony is that the more as a society we demand and expect from government, the less we get. Only by conserving legislative attention and citizen oversight can things get better.”

If Indiana’s Republican leaders given a supermajority can’t apply this philosophy in organizing a legislative session, then they should find more fitting work. The Democrats by themselves will do a good enough job running the state into the ground.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.


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