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Column: Politicians’ masters flex muscles to stand ground


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Indiana’s primary election results show just how divorced from reality our political debates are — and how much worse things are likely to get.

The big news from Tuesday’s vote was that social conservatives flexed their muscles and knocked off two Republican incumbents, Rep. Kathy Heuer of Huntington and Rep. Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse. Heuer and Kubacki got spanked for having the temerity not to toe the line in the fight to add an amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions to the Indiana constitution.

Lost in the noise of battle was the fact that the squabble over same-sex marriage and civil unions won’t be won or lost at the ballot box or in state legislatures — and that state constitutional amendments likely won’t make much difference.

Litigation bubbling up from states around the country, including Indiana, will force the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

The nation’s highest court already has ruled against a federal ban on gay marriage. If the justices decide that state bans also violate the Constitution, then there won’t be much conservative activists or state legislators can do about it.

If the Supreme Court decides state bans on civil unions pass constitutional muster, then it’s a whole new ballgame.

But, either way, the decision won’t be made at the level of the Indiana House of Representatives.

That means the fight to defeat Heuer and Kubacki was over their votes on an issue in which they and all other Indiana lawmakers probably will be irrelevant.

The other interesting development from Tuesday’s vote came from the southwestern part of the state, where Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, fell in a close contest.

Waterman had run afoul of the mouthpiece and enforcer of the state’s business community, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. He voted against the chamber’s major union-busting initiative from a couple of years ago, the right-

to-work legislation designed to strip labor organizations of funds.

Right to work split the state and prompted repeated walkouts and other delaying actions by Indiana Democrats, but the outcome of the fight never was in doubt. With comfortable majorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans always had the votes they needed to push the measure through.

The GOP had so many votes that Republicans didn’t need Waterman’s vote to win. And, given that he came from a part of the state with a long mining history where union sentiment is strong, one could make the argument that voting against right to work was the smart move for Waterman politically.

That flexibility, in fact, long has been one of the strengths of the Senate GOP caucus. With such great majorities, the Senate leadership has had the luxury of being able to allow individual senators to avoid uncomfortable votes while still having the numbers needed to push through the Republican agenda.

No more, apparently.

The Senate leadership rallied around Waterman in this battle. The Chamber of Commerce backed his opponent, Eric Bassler.

The chamber won.

That may have been the real point of Tuesday’s tilts over same-sex marriage and right to work. They were battles not over the issues themselves, but over who gets to call the shots in Indiana government.

Both social conservatives and the business community sent signals that disobedience would be punished, even if the disobedience in question didn’t cost social conservatives or the chamber anything that really mattered.

It’s dangerous to let independent thinking in politics take root. Weeds grow — and spread.

Curt Smith, president of Indiana Family Action and one of the leaders in the fight to put the ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions into the Indiana constitution, said as much.

“The overall message is that if you oppose marriage in Indiana, you take huge political risks. If you want to thumb your nose at the pro-family groups, you do so at your own risk,” Smith told The Indianapolis Star after the votes were counted.

This means that we Hoosiers are likely to see still more people sent to represent us who will do little more than take notes and follow orders from special-interest groups.

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.

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