With a few vital exceptions across America, the 2023 election was scheduled to deal with local government. Tip O’Neill famously coined the phrase, “all politics is local.” Oh, if the former Speaker of the House, who held the gavel for virtually all of the 1980’s, could see the America we are living in today.
O’Neill’s iconic statement still rings true more often than not. Maybe. Sometimes. However, there is no question that our neighboring states have turned Indiana into a political island. And when I think of another island to which Indiana might compare, I conclude we are less like Maui or Mackinac, and more like Gilligan’s. Island politics are absolutely local.
Ohio really made a statement last week on two issues that are the polar opposite of where Indiana is, because, you know, Hoosiers’ and Ohioans’ sharply diverge on lots of basics. Actually, I contend that if people of each state traded their sports teams’ gear with those of the other, no one outside of the region would even notice.
The voters to our east voted to enshrine the right to abortion care in the Ohio Constitution, and to statutorily legalize recreational use of marijuana. Both of the separate votes to approve each measure won by nearly fourteen points. Two landslides. No surprise.
Why not? The entire region sees these policies through a similar lens. That’s why Illinois and Michigan already allow both things. Wisconsin’s new supreme court is headed that way on abortion. These are the states I name when someone asks me to define the Midwest.
Like my predicted results of the gear trade with Ohio, that same deal can be made to our north and our west. The main thing we apparently differ on these days, is how we govern. Our neighbors are implementing policies that the people of their state want, and government in Indiana is keeping those same things from us. It’s a stark contrast that is the beginning of an era of defining conflicts with the will of the public.
Former U.S. senator and conservative political commentator, Rick Santorum, made the comment that apparently matches Hoosiers best with, “pure democracies are not the way to run a country.” I guess I might be tempted to say such a thing if I were in the minority camp on these issues too. But the comment is a little silly in that it diminishes how hard it is to get over 700,000 signatures on a petition to get the questions on the ballot in Ohio.
I know, I know. I’ve been here before, comparing our state to where the grass is greener in one direction or another. And who would have thought that Kentucky Bluegrass is actually greener than it used to be too. Yes, Kentucky already has a law allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. But they have now affirmatively voted on the abortion issue twice as well.
As reported by PBS a year ago, “Kentucky voters rejected a ballot measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion, handing a victory to abortion-rights supporters who have seen access to the procedure eroded by Republican lawmakers in the deeply red state.” They followed that vote up this year by reelecting Democrat Gov. Andy Beshear, who ran on a pro-choice platform.
How did Hoosiers become so different from everyone around us? Is it the excessive consumption of breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches? Or maybe it’s that we spent too many late nights playing Euchre and pretending the game is complicated enough for us to argue about who is good or bad at it.
The truth is, we aren’t different than everyone around us. The people of this state disagree with Indiana government on both issues. Hoosiers oppose the abortion ban the Indiana General Assembly passed last year. Hoosiers also oppose the ban on marijuana. If the question were asked here like it was in Ohio, the result would have gone straight-up Buckeye.
More importantly, it matters.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science reported in July, “Abortion laws are driving academics out of state—and keeping others from coming.” HR Dive reported in August that employers announcing reproductive healthcare benefits received more interest in job openings compared to those who didn’t. Again, no surprise.
Clinging to unpopular policies is more than just an inconsequential pain in the neck for the majority. It leads to all kinds of erosion in our communities.
This isn’t a great island on which to be stranded. The best people aren’t lining up to come here now. Hoosiers need to speak up sooner rather than later. And louder rather than softer. Erosion turns to rot quickly these days. Or haven’t we heard that either?