Michael Leppert: Cummins, Lilly day late, dollar short

The night of Friday, Aug. 5, while the Indiana General Assembly was turning back the clock on human rights, I was at the Egyptian Room of the Old National Center to see a comedy show. With all of the tragically unfunny things going on for the last few weeks under the dome a few blocks away, the timing of the Marc Maron tickets I bought months earlier were a welcome reprieve.

Right around the time the show was ending, the legislature was passing Indiana’s new abortion ban. Shortly after I got home, Gov. Eric Holcomb was signing it into law. Early the next day, Eli Lilly and Co. issued a statement informing the state of its negative view of it.

There’s still nothing funny about this, so let’s get back to comedy.

Maron’s act has become known for a self-deprecating approach that is now filled with references to the harsh reality of being a 58-year-old man. I’m almost his age, so his humor makes near-perfect sense to me.

However, what turned out to be more striking was the opening act, a woman named Laura Beitz (pronounced “Bites”). She lives in Los Angeles but was born and raised in Milwaukee. I expected to hear a little Hoosier bashing because of what was happening across town. Nope. There was none of that. Quite the contrary.

She noted how friendly the people are here and gave a couple of examples. Then she told a story that wasn’t about Hoosiers at all. Not really. Though it definitely made me think.

Beitz painted a fascinating picture of her boyfriend, one vivid enough to make anyone listening wonder why they were together at all. But the two of them are trying to make it work. She said, “I am going to couples counseling, which is where I pay a man to repeat exactly what I’ve been saying, in a man’s voice, so my boyfriend can hear it … and it’s worth every penny.”

Whether Midwesterners are friendly or not, like the comedian’s boyfriend, swaths of us are having trouble hearing, learning and understanding. I don’t know if simply changing the messenger would have much of an impact, but I do know that the first step toward a solution is the acknowledgement that there is a problem.

So, the day after Indiana added to its growing list of problems through passage of Senate Enrolled Act 1, one of its largest employers spoke up. In a statement issued on Saturday morning, Lilly claimed the new law could “hinder its ability to attract diverse scientific engineering and business talent from around the world,” and that, “we will be forced to plan for more employment growth outside our home state.”

It was a statement viewed by many as a day late.

The company was skewered on social media platforms for showing up just after the all-invited debate ended. Justifiably so. On the other hand, who didn’t already know this? Later in the weekend, it turned out Cummins knew it too.

The Columbus, Indiana-based engine manufacturer followed with its tardy input. “There are provisions in the law … that impact our people, impede our ability to attract and retain top talent and influence our decisions as we continue to grow our footprint with a focus on selecting welcoming and inclusive environments,” a company spokesman said.

Though these statements may be late, they are unquestionably true and were known to be true long ago. No one valuable is coming to Indiana, investing in Indiana, or staying in Indiana because of the new law. Did we learn nothing from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

Indiana’s abortion law makes Indiana a less desirable place.

It’s difficult for me to be angry at business leaders on this one. As Niki Kelly wrote last week, even Holcomb was nearly as absent.

Like Beitz’s couples’ counselor, we need to speak to the legislature in a voice they can hear. It will come best in the form of a vote.

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com. This commentary was originally published at indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected]