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Column: GOP flexes its election muscle, tries to settle political scores


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INDIANAPOLIS — The rhythm of political success stories is almost biblical in its cadences.

First there is triumph. Overreaching follows. And, finally, comes the fall.

Then the cycle begins again.

In this past election, Indiana Republicans won a victory of historic proportion. They claimed supermajorities in both the Indiana House of Representatives and Senate. And they swept every statewide office in state government except one.

We’ll get to that in a moment.

Members of the GOP can be forgiven for thinking that the election results give them a license to completely remake Indiana in their image, which is the way some of them are acting.

There were some signals in the election that the voters did not intend to give Republicans a blank check. The party’s standard bearer in the governor’s race, Mike Pence, was a veteran officeholder with a national reputation for leadership and a massive fundraising advantage over his Democratic opponent, John Gregg.

Pence won, but he claimed less than 50 percent of the vote.

And then there was the Indiana office that Republicans lost — state superintendent of public instruction.

Democrat Glenda Ritz surprised everyone by beating incumbent Republican Tony Bennett by the largest margin in any statewide race for a state government office, despite the fact that Bennett had massive advantages in both fundraising and name recognition.

Right after the election, Gov. Mitch Daniels, Gov.-elect Pence and legislative leaders pooh-poohed Ritz’s victory and said that it wouldn’t change anything. Daniels even said that he had appointed the members of the State Board of Education and that they would prevent Ritz and her followers from changing anything.

That certainly is the way that board is behaving.

It met a few days ago to consider changes to teacher licensing regulations. Ritz appeared before the board to ask that changes be delayed until she was in office and could study them in greater depth.

The board voted, 9-2, to go ahead with the changes. Bennett was among the nine voting to go ahead.

Now, reasonable people can disagree about where the voters stand on education reform, given that the voters who elected Ritz also elected people to the Legislature who disagree with her. But one thing the voters were clear about was that they rejected Bennett’s leadership.

The licensing measures didn’t need his vote to move ahead. The graceful way for a rejected leader to handle that situation would have been to abstain.

By voting, Bennett demonstrated a subtle but unmistakable sign of contempt for the state’s voters and their judgment on Election Day.

Then there is the new initiative from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the same folks who brought right-to-work legislation to the state. The chamber wants to make it illegal to deduct union dues from paychecks for public employees, primarily teachers. There are GOP lawmakers who say they will introduce the proposal as legislation.

When the chamber pushed for right to work, its lobbyists claimed that their intent was not to hurt unions but rather to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

This latest initiative — which is not at all about jobs or the economy, but rather about crushing opposition — makes clear that that the chamber’s argument about right to work was a sham.

In fact, that much was clear immediately after right to work became law. The chamber’s leader, Kevin Brinegar, sent a letter to the editor to several state newspapers saying right to work shouldn’t be judged by jobs or economic growth numbers. The message was clear: Accountability was something the chamber advocated for everyone else, but not for itself.

The fact is that Republicans in Indiana now have the votes to do almost anything they want. But that also means that Republicans alone will be held accountable for what the state does in these next two years.

I somehow suspect that Indiana voters did not give Republicans power this immense so they could use it exclusively for the purposes of stifling dissent and settling decades-old political scores.

We have seen the first act of the Republican political success story — the huge triumph.

And we now seem to be just about at the point where we see the second act, the overreaching part.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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