Indiana GOP in a fight for party’s future

There is an interesting philosophical battle taking place within the Indiana Republican Party.

With supermajorities in both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly and all of the state’s elected offices in their control, the party is experiencing a power struggle.

Less than a year into his second term, Gov. Eric Holcomb is already being considered a “lame duck” in office. Normally the term refers to an elected official in the final year of his or her term in office. It has meant the official becomes less effective by the term’s end.

Republican lawmakers passed legislation that allows for them to call a special session of the Indiana General Assembly without approval from the governor. Holcomb has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the measure.

Much of the fight was over Holcomb’s decision to institute a mask mandate and to close businesses during the pandemic. GOP members felt Holcomb went too far, while Democrats didn’t think he went far enough.

The case is being heard in a Marion County court, where Attorney General Todd Rokita contends the governor can’t hire outside legal counsel without his permission.

It’s a fight for the hearts and minds of the party.

A large faction of newly elected lawmakers have merged with incumbent members of the Legislature to continue to try and woo voters who cast ballots for Donald Trump in the past two presidential elections.

The main-line party members are attempting to keep control of the party and the traditional conservative positions of the GOP.

In many ways, it is similar to what took place in 2012 when Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock defeated incumbent GOP Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary election. Mourdock lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly, who was defeated in 2018 by GOP candidate Mike Braun, with an assist from Trump.

“I don’t think he is a lame duck,” Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said of Holcomb. “He still has a high standing with the public.”

Lanane said Democrats in the state House and Senate were put in the unusual position of trying to defend Holcomb against Republicans in both chambers.

Almost a century ago, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit” to describe the influence exerted by the occupants of the White House on public opinion. As governor, Holcomb also has the “bully pulpit” since almost every statement or action he takes will garner media and public attention.

State Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, wondered why Holcomb didn’t push harder during the legislative session to enact programs. “He didn’t use the bully pulpit like other governors to push for passage of his legislative agenda,” Austin commented.

With three more years in the governor’s mansion, it appears that Holcomb is going to meet resistance from a core group of Republicans in the Legislature when it comes to spending and policy decisions. With millions of dollars in federal aid to be used in the state, how those funds are spent will become a point of contention.

Ken de la Bastide is a columnist for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson. Send comments to [email protected].