INDIANAPOLIS – A couple of conversations illustrated how poorly our political discussions serve these days.
The first conversation was with Drew Klacik, Jamie Palmer and John Marron, senior policy analysts with the Indiana University Public Policy Institute. We talked over the air about the results of Thriving Communities, Thriving State, the institute’s in-depth study of the ways life in Indiana could be improved at the community level.
The study divided the state into three categories: urban centers, mid-sized communities and small towns or rural areas. Some common priorities emerged from the research.
Hoosiers, wherever they live, see strengthening education as a key to enhancing quality of life. They also value diversity as an important part of building a strong economy.
And here’s the kicker – they see collaboration as essential to achieving those goals.
They want to see collaboration between the public and private – both for-profit and nonprofit – sectors to enhance life in Indiana, but they also want to see local, state and federal government officials playing nice with each other.
A few days later, I talked, again on the air, with Katharine Byers and Kelsey Clayton about poverty and opportunity. Byers is the retired former co-director of the Institute for Family and Social Responsibility at Indiana University. Clayton is Indiana Assets and Opportunity Network manager.
Byers and Clayton talked about how so many of our approaches to dealing with poverty are counterproductive. And they discussed how corrosive poverty could be, especially for young people – an important point in a state where 22 percent of the children live below the poverty line.
Byers and Clayton said education, particularly early education, was critical to breaking cycles of poverty.
And they said the problem of poverty must be met by people who are eager to solve problems, not score political or ideological points.
In short, if we’re going to meet the challenge of seeing the middle class erode and having more than one in five of our young people live stunted, often unproductive lives, we will have to – you guessed it – collaborate.
Those two conversations served almost as bookends for the news that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence had done an about-face on pre-kindergarten funding.
Two years ago, the governor abruptly announced that Indiana wouldn’t even apply for $80 million in federal pre-K funds even as state officials were finalizing the paperwork to do so.
It was a political gesture on Pence’s part.
A Republican governor who, at the time, still was weighing a possible run for the White House, Pence couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shake his fist at the big, bad Barack Obama administration – even if the fist-shaking cost our children $80 million worth of opportunities.
We may get that money now, but the children who fell into that crack – who lost those two years of education and opportunity – likely will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives.
Things change. The governor now is in the middle of a tough re-election battle and, lo and behold, he’s discovered Hoosiers care about their kids’ schooling.
But it’s not fair to single the governor out as the sole offender.
In recent years, our state legislators have made their top priorities – right to work, a same-sex marriage ban, a misnamed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a crackdown on restroom use – issues that were designed to divide Hoosiers, measures aimed at creating problems rather than solving them.
At the federal level, after both the electorate and the Supreme Court have ruled in favor of health-care reform, our lawmakers still are fighting not about whether there are ways to improve it, but whether it should exist.
We Hoosiers – we Americans – have some huge problems to solve.
We always have been a middle-class society, but the emergence of what has been called an hourglass economy – bulges at the top and bottom without much in the middle – will test us in ways we can’t even imagine.
But our leaders, it is clear, are more determined to score points than they are to solve problems.
Their priority is beating the other side, not figuring out how to work together to make this a better state, a better country.
It’s a simple thing for us to talk about.
It seems to be a hard thing for us to do.
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.