By John Krull
Somehow, it’s fitting that the 2018 session of the Indiana General Assembly ended in a tired, confused mess.
The curtain closed on this year’s adventure in lawmaking with legislative leaders sniping at legislators and each other, the governor complaining the legislature left work undone and the governor and GOP leaders trying to defy both time and state law.
Inspiring, it wasn’t.
By the time it was over, at least two of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s priorities — improvements in school security and inducements and regulations for driverless cars — were left in the unfinished pile.
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, blamed the Indiana Senate for working too slowly. Retiring Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, returned the fire and accused Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, of having a “meltdown” that prevented the legislature from doing its work.
Soliday wasn’t slow to lash back.
He said the Senate was rushing at the end because the senators spent five hours earlier in the day lauding Long as he prepares to retire. He more than suggested that Long could have waited to take his bow until after the work was done.
Keep in mind that all these guys are supposed to be on the same side.
They’re all Republicans.
Perhaps that is why Democrats reacted to the confusion with such undisguised glee.
House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, chortled the late-hours debacle was a product of “complete and total mismanagement” by Republican leaders.
Then, to put the cherry on top, Goodin offered up this confectionary assessment of the entire legislative session.
“This session seems like Twinkie. It fills you up, but there’s just nothing of real substance or value to it,” he said.
Goodin is right about that.
Lawmakers this year ducked every tough challenge before them.
They punted again on passing a hate-crimes law, leaving Indiana one of only five states in the union not to say it’s wrong to target citizens for assault or injury because of the color of their skin, their gender, how they pray or whom they love.
They took a pass once more on adopting redistricting reform, which means our general legislative elections will continue to be as competitive as Harlem Globetrotters’ basketball games.
And they shoved any substantive investigation of the issues involving the Indiana Department of Child Services under the rug. That means, if former DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura, also a Republican, is to be believed, Indiana children will remain at risk of dying because dealing with this challenge was politically uncomfortable in an election year.
All in all, this was far from an uplifting performance by our leaders.
But it also wasn’t surprising.
Republicans have exercised largely unchecked power for much of this decade, ever since they secured supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.
This hasn’t been good for either the state or the GOP.
When Republicans first gained overwhelming control of the legislature, they acted as if every day were Christmas. They pulled one item after another out of the conservative bag of wishes. They remodeled the state’s education system. They dug all the way back to the 1950s to adopt a divisive right-to-work law.
In the process, they turned Indiana into a kind of American laboratory for conservative governance.
But that kind of power leads to arrogance.
Because there’s no one to force Republicans to think beyond the moment, the party and the state have made some unforced errors. The embarrassing scramble to clean up a licensing mess for hardworking “dreamers” that was created by some self-indulgent immigrant-baiting by Indiana lawmakers a few years ago is but one example of Indiana leaders trying to clean up a mess they themselves made.
Republicans argue that competition is a force for good, that it refines and sharpens both ideas and performance.
They’re right about that.
The fact that they don’t have any real competition has made them sloppy and self-indulgent.
That is why this legislative session ended was a series of stumbles, not a sprint.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to email@example.com.