John Krull: Toto, we’re not in Kansas

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When the good people of Kansas voted overwhelmingly in a statewide referendum to reject restraints on reproductive rights, they sent a message that could be read by everyone.

Everyone but those entrenched in rigged positions of power, that is.

Indiana’s legislative leaders made that clear.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, delivered the most succinct “talk to the hand” response to the Kansas results.

“It is a representative government that we have, and it’s our job to determine and communicate with our constituents and make decisions based upon that. We’re accountable to our constituents, and every four years at least over here in the Senate, they decide whether we stay or whether we go,” Bray explained.

That might make sense if Indiana had a representative form of government.

But it doesn’t.

Not really.

Bray and his colleagues have seen to that.

Indiana’s state legislature is one of the most gerrymandered in the country. Hoosier Republicans have sliced and diced House and Senate district lines so effectively that they have managed to turn what should be comfortable GOP majorities in those chambers into overwhelming ones.

Here in Indiana, voters don’t choose lawmakers.

Lawmakers choose the voters they want.

Then they exchange high-fives after they rack up another rigged victory.

It’s a bit like watching a boxer do a happy dance after winning a fixed fight.

That may be a pleasing and satisfactory arrangement for the legislators, but it isn’t for the citizens.

Particularly at a time such as this one.

If Indiana’s voters were able to express themselves on the question of abortion, the results likely would resemble those in Kansas.

Hoosiers cast 57% of their ballots for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Kansas backed Trump with 56% of its vote.

Yet, Kansas voters rejected attempts to ban abortion by a 59% to 41% margin.

The signs that Hoosier voters would act in a similar fashion are everywhere.

Virtually everyone who testified regarding Senate Bill 1—the measure that seeks to ban abortion except in instances of rape, incest or when the health of the mother is at risk—spoke out against the bill. In fact, supporters of the abortion ban have adopted a quiet lobbying strategy of cozying up to and strategizing with lawmakers behind the scenes precisely because they know that public opinion is not on their side on this question.

The response to SB 1’s march through the legislative process has demonstrated where the public is.

Until recently, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce was always the first to shout “amen” whenever Republican lawmakers proposed anything. But the chamber now has requested—pleaded, actually—that the legislature take a pause on abortion legislation.

The chamber took that step because business leaders are worried that talent recruitment, which is already difficult in what is a deepening labor shortage, will become almost impossible if the state tells half the members of the workforce that Hoosiers don’t trust them to make their own decisions about managing their health and family planning.

Those same business leaders also fret that the GOP lawmakers’ headlong rush to ban abortion will chase away convention traffic, which has become a bigger and bigger piece of the Indiana economy.

They are right to be concerned.

Gen Con already has expressed opposition to the abortion ban and hinted that it might not be back if the measure becomes law.

Not that any of this is likely to persuade the true believers in the Indiana General Assembly.

Like the boxer doing the happy dance after winning the fixed fight, many of the beneficiaries of gerrymandered districts honestly believe they are world-beaters. They think because they operate out from safe seats that they only have to listen to and consider the points of view and interests of people who agree with them on everything.

This is what makes the idea that they are representative of the will of the people a joke.

And a twisted joke at that.

In a self-governing society, government draws its authority from the consent of the governed. Constitutions, in fact, are in effect contracts that define how government may use that authority.

When government uses its authority to thwart rather than advance the will of the people and strip away rights, it isn’t just another cute political game.

It’s an assault on the idea of liberty itself.

That’s where we Hoosiers are right now.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. The opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the views of Franklin College.

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