Morris: A Journalist Discovers Politics
by Leo Morris
Niki Kelly, in a column for the news organization Indiana Capital Chronicle, expresses a forlorn disappointment in Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch.
It seems that Crouch, in all the time Kelly has been covering her as a journalist, “has never really been about politics” but has worked instead on “moving the state forward,” unabashedly using words “like cooperation and collaboration.” She has focused on “practical changes to government that would help Hoosiers.”
But now that she’s running for governor on the Republican ticket, Crouch has turned into – wait for it – a politician. Knowing she has to get through the primary to stand in the general election, she is out there talking to Republican crowds and saying Republican things that Republican voters want to hear.
How distasteful of her.
Kelly didn’t exactly put it the way I paraphrased her. She wrote that Crouch had “taken a hard-right turn.” It’s almost like “someone has a check-list somewhere of conservative, hot-button topics she must weigh in on.”
Now I might quibble with – in fact, I do – some of Kelly’s choices for topics out of the mainstream mindset.
The U.S.-Mexican border. The national security implications of an open border are a “right wing” issue?
Voucher expansion. Giving parents a greater say in the education of their children is a “conservative” issue?
Possible elimination of the state income tax. Only Republicans care about a lower tax burden?
All Kelly has done with her list of topics is reveal her political inclinations, as, I suspect, I have revealed mine with my reaction to them. So it goes.
But I take her point that our election system is a haphazard, unsatisfying way to choose who will lead us. Candidates are forced to appeal to base voters in the primary, which means taking firm stands on deeply held principles. Then, in the general election, they have to pivot into a softer stance, to show they care about all citizens, not just the ones of their ideological bent.
Kelly does acknowledge that Crouch is “far from the first” to use this “primary strategy.” In fact, I’d venture to say it’s used all the time, in almost every election we’ve ever had.
And what do we know about the candidates that make it through both the primary and general? Only that they are the best politicians – the ones most able to tell the most voters the most things they want to hear. Unless they’ve already held the office they are seeking, we know nothing about the way they would actually govern. Separating politics from governance has always been the greatest challenge of our system, the one we have never quite mastered.
Who on the Republican ballot, for example would be the best next governor of Indiana?
Suzanne Couch is the ultimate insider, having been a county commissioner, a state representative and state auditor on her way to the lieutenant governorship. She has an intimate knowledge of government, both the way it should work and the way it actually does.
Mike Braun has set foot in both worlds, first as a successful businessman, then as a first-term U.S. senator. He has glimpsed government both from the outside and the inside.
Eric Doden is the ultimate outsider. As a successful businessman and, especially, as an “economic development” advocate, he knows how to work the system, though he’s never held elective office.
Their experiences give us some glimmer of how they might govern. But we can’t really know, since none of them has ever been governor. It’s a crap shoot.
All we can do as voters is to listen to them as they campaign, both in the primary and general elections, and weigh their words. Are they sincere? Are they trustworthy? Do they have good character? Are they the type of people who would rise to the occasion in a crisis? Is there such a gulf between their primary and general campaigning that they could never put good governance above politics?
It’s not perfect, but it’s the system we have.
As I write this, Jennifer McCormick, former state schools superintendent and ex-Republican, has no serious contender on the Democratic ballot for governor. Unless she gets one, she will not have to be out there speaking to Democratic crowds, saying a lot of Democratic things that Democrats want to hear.
At least she won’t disappoint anybody. On the other hand, we might not learn much about her ability to govern.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.