The state’s legislators managed to make it through this session of the Indiana General Assembly without putting Hoosiers at each others’ throats or turning the state into a national joke.
This is progress.
The 2017 legislative session has been a quiet one.
There haven’t been any mass protests that had people waiting in long lines to get inside the stone walls of the Statehouse or spilling out into the streets of downtown Indianapolis. Nor have we seen lawmakers of one party or the other flee the state for weeks at a time. And the governor didn’t even make a disastrous national television appearance that turned Indiana into an international punchline for jokes built on themes of intolerance and incompetence.
For a state that has endured brutal and often ugly battles over right-to-work legislation, a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions, the ill-named and ill-conceived Religious Freedom Restoration Act and a costly and ongoing war of attrition over education policy, the absence of pitched conflict makes for a nice change.
Instead of devoting prodigious amounts of time, money, energy and rancor to divisive and often largely symbolic social issues, lawmakers focused instead on more prosaic issues, such as road funding, schools and alcohol sales.
If there was a success to come from the session, it probably was the plan to start maintaining and repairing Indiana’s decaying roads and bridges.
The roads bill that emerged was, as almost every legislative measure is, a collection of compromises that likely won’t be entirely satisfying to anyone, but turned out to be acceptable to most people.
Whatever the roads bill’s flaws might be, it represented a considerable improvement over the previous means of dealing with Indiana’s crumbling infrastructure. Those were:
Wishing and hoping the roads and bridges just would fix themselves; and
Mortgaging the future to find funds to pay for band-aids to slap on the multiplying chuckholes and collapsing bridges.
This new measure – with its assortment of taxes and fees to provide funding – introduces a welcome dose of realism into the lawmakers’ world, a recognition that there simply are things we Hoosiers must pay for if we want them to be safe and usable.
Beyond the roads and bridges, the legislators didn’t accomplish much of consequence.
They huffed and puffed and transformed the position of state superintendent of public instruction from an elected to an appointed office, a “reform” demanded by no one outside the Statehouse. They voted to pump ever increasing sums of taxpayer money into charter schools and school voucher programs, even though there is scant evidence that such initiatives are accomplishing much more than providing an expensive form of therapy for relative handfuls of parents.
And they figured out a way to maintain a complicated system of alcohol sales laws that read as if they were drafted by a person in the throes of dementia.
Some of us might contend that the legislators’ nearly four months of labor amounted to little more than a shuffling of feet while the world around us and history itself hurtle forward at a breakneck pace.
We could argue that, but doing so would be churlish.
Instead, we should be grateful for the respite.
The lawmakers may have paraphrased Caesar in their own way – “we came, we saw, we did very little” – but at least they didn’t embarrass us before the rest of the world or dance us close to the flames of another civil war, this one marked by a cultural divide.
As accomplishments go, this is, to be sure, a meager one.
But, with this bunch, we must be grateful for small favors.
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. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.