John Krull: Absurd theater at the Statehouse

John Krull

Indiana Republicans sure know how to fuss and feud.

They have a dandy fracas going on right now.

During the just-suspended session of the Indiana General Assembly — more on that in a moment — our lawmakers passed a bill limiting the governor’s emergency powers. It should be noted that the memberships of both the Indiana House of Representatives and the Indiana Senate are overwhelmingly Republican.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, also a Republican, vetoed the measure, citing constitutional concerns as his reason.

Holcomb was right to do so.

The measure granted the legislature the power to call itself back into session. The Indiana Constitution makes it clear only the governor has the authority to do so.

A former Indiana Supreme Court justice, Frank Sullivan, who now teaches constitutional law at Indiana University, testified before the legislature and told the lawmakers that.

It didn’t matter.

The legislators overrode Holcomb’s veto.

Now, Holcomb has filed suit challenging the new law.

And Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who never misses an opportunity to pander to the far right, has opined that the governor doesn’t have the right to hire outside counsel to file the suit.

Rokita, of course, has himself hired outside counsel in the matter.

He, too, is a Republican.

All of this takes place against a backdrop of the legislature voting not to adjourn by April 29 — as Indiana law has required for 50 years — but instead go into recess. This has forced the lawmakers to rewrite longstanding laws and practices.

Among other things, the legislators have said that, contrary to Indiana law, they and other elected state officials will be able to raise money while the legislature still is in session. But the lawmakers said the begging couldn’t begin until after April 29.

This already has caused some controversy.

Indiana Secretary of State Holli Sullivan, another Republican who just was appointed to her office, announced on April 26 she would run to win the office in her own right in 2022. She did so in a Facebook video in which she also solicited campaign contributions.

The Indiana Libertarian Party cried foul and filed a complaint.

Among other duties, the secretary of state is charged with making sure election laws are honored and followed.

So, to summarize, what we have going on right now in Indiana is:

A legal battle between the governor and legislators from his own party over whether those lawmakers, many of whom like to call themselves strict constitutionalists, can ignore the state constitution.

Another fight between the attorney general and the governor about whether the governor can hire outside lawyers to challenge an unconstitutional law. In this tussle, both the governor and the attorney general are using outside lawyers, who are being paid by the taxpayers.

The state’s lawmakers decided to toss out the state law requiring them to finish their business by April 29 because they want to be able to come back into session at any time if Gov. Holcomb decides not to go along with their fantasy that the coronavirus pandemic never happened.

The lawmakers’ decision to stay in session already has prompted the state official charged with administering fair and legal elections into violating election law. Further confusion by still more public officials is bound to follow.

It is at moments such as this that I often ask myself a question.

Why do people bother to write fiction?

If a novelist or a screenwriter came up with a scenario this unrealistic, no one would be able to suspend disbelief long enough to buy it.

But the fact is that this isn’t made up.

It is real.

It is your Indiana government in action.

Your tax dollars at work.

There’s a cliché out there that says politics is show business for ugly people. Clichés become clichés because there’s often some truth to them.

Here in Indiana, we have a surreal absurdist comedy playing out, courtesy of and performed by the state GOP.

That’s entertainment.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to [email protected].