A couple of years ago, Indiana geniuses came up with the motto “Honest to goodness, Indiana!” After reading this scorching–and utterly accurate–description of what passes for governing in my state, I think that motto should be “For goodness sakes, Indiana!”
The article by Aaron Wren in Governing magazine looked at the traditional Red state tactics that brought disaster to Kansas and failed to improve economies in Red states generally. When Wren focused on Indiana, he laid out the state’s current status and the roots of our declining wellbeing.
Or look at Indiana. It has had Republican governors since 2005 and full Republican control of the state for over a decade. Its leadership loves to boast that its growth rate in population and jobs beats surrounding states, but that’s a low hurdle to jump. In reality, most of Indiana is stagnating or declining. Over half of the state’s counties are losing population, and the forecast for the prime working age population is grim: Virtually the entire state is projected to have a declining workforce in coming years. Indiana’s per capita income is only 86.2 percent of the national average, and that’s lower than it was when the GOP took over the governorship and the Legislature. Under Republican management, the state started out poor and got even poorer.
Why these poor results in states with the full panoply of red state best practices? It’s because the entire philosophy of governance in Kansas, Indiana and quite a few other Republican states is based on a fundamentally mistaken view of progress. Rather than investing to build up the skills and enhance the well-being of their citizens, they engaged in a race down to the bottom as a strategy to attract corporations.
Wren doesn’t simply make an assertion–he provides examples.
When local media reported on the horrific situations faced by many local renters, Indianapolis responded by passing an ordinance that required landlords to provide tenants with a list of their rights– including the right to have “functional plumbing, safe wiring and heat in the winter.” Indiana’s legislature just overturned that ordinance, as part of the legislature’s ongoing refusal to respect local control, and–as Wren says–at the behest of the property owners’ lobby.
Indiana is a great place to be a slumlord, but not such a good place to be a citizen who rents.
The article points out that this example is just one of many. The state’s nursing home industry has so many negatives, it has become, Wren says, “a giant scam.” He recounts how hospitals in the state used ownership of nursing facilities to overbill Medicare and siphon over a billion dollars from those homes. The money was used to fund building projects and generous salaries for hospital executives. Meanwhile, Indiana ranks 48th in nursing home staffing, and more than 20 percent of nursing home patients with COVID died (the national rate is 13 percent).
How did our legislature respond? It passed a bill providing expansive immunity from liability for nursing homes and other businesses.
In addition to overturning tenant protections, Indiana has flirted with canceling a transit expansion in Indianapolis that has been supported overwhelmingly by the voters, and gutted a bill that would have required employers to provide basic accommodations to pregnant women. (Expectant mothers can now ask for accommodations, but employers don’t have to actually provide any). Perusing the list of bills working their way through the state Legislature, it’s hard to see much that could even plausibly make a material improvement in the life of Hoosier citizens.
Wren points out that the most important factor in attracting high-wage employers is the availability of a skilled labor force – talent. What he doesn’t mention is the Indiana legislature’s continuing assault on public education, and the negative effects of that assault on efforts to produce a skilled labor force. Instead, the Republicans who have dominated state government continue to siphon dollars from public schools in favor of private, mostly religious schools via the nation’s largest voucher program.
Aaron Wren is no bleeding-heart liberal. When he lived in Indianapolis, I knew him slightly, and followed his observations on local governance. He was pro-business in the better sense of that term, supportive of governance that created a business-friendly environment, but highly critical of the crony capitalism that continues to characterize Republican politics in Indiana.
So long as Indiana’s gerrymandered districts continue to weight rural votes over urban ones, we will continue to rank among the bottom of states in numerous categories, and we’ll continue to have what the late Harrison Ullmann called “the world’s worst legislature.”
For goodness sakes, Indiana!