News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

January 19, 2012

MARK BENNETT: A reminder for electorate: You get what you vote for

TERRE HAUTE — In the rear-view mirror of our lives, some days loom larger than we expected.

For many Hoosiers, the date Nov. 2, 2010, probably fits that category.

Protesters filled the Indiana Statehouse this week, just as they have on a daily basis since the 2012 session of the General Assembly convened on Jan. 4. The unrest centers on the so-called right-to-work legislation, pushed forward by Republican majorities in the Indiana House and Senate. Similar protests occurred regularly during last year’s session, when the GOP legislators passed drastic changes in public education. Understandably, folks most directly affected have turned out in the greatest numbers to voice opposition to the ruling party’s agenda, including educators in 2011 and union workers this year.

The division and controversy spill into news reports, office conversations and kitchen-table talks at home.

Not everyone is unhappy or outraged by the lawmakers’ extremes, but those who are upset may be questioning their own decisions made Nov. 2, 2010. On that day, Hoosiers resoundingly endorsed the structure that produced this situation. Elections matter.

While most of the Campaign 2010 attention surrounded the races for Congress and the revolt against President Obama’s national health care act, the state House and Senate candidates felt the impact. Indiana voters gave Republicans solid control of state government.

With the governor’s seat already occupied by Mitch Daniels, the election also gave Republicans a 60-40 majority in the House, and a 37-13 “super majority” in the Senate. Such dominance gives any idea from a member of the party in power a strong chance of becoming law.

As a result, Indiana now has the nation’s most expansive use of public-funded vouchers to pay tuition at private schools.

Likewise, Indiana stands on the brink of enacting a contentious right-to-work law, something no other state has done in more than a decade.

The votes cast — or not cast — on Nov. 2, 2010, set it all up.

The number of registered voters in Indiana then totaled 4,329,153. Only 41 percent of those eligible actually participated. While 1,786,213 Hoosiers visited the polls or filled out absentee ballots, the other 2,542,940 registered voters stayed away. Some in the latter group may now regret their choice.

The second-guessing probably extends to many who did vote. Half of the 50 Indiana Senate seats were on the ballot, and voters elected Republicans to 19 of those four-year positions. Sixty-one percent of all votes (524,770) in the Senate races went to GOP candidates. All of the two-year Indiana House seats were in play, and 62 percent of those votes (999,186) went to the Republicans.

With such a lopsided outcome, the Republicans’ supporters in that election 14 months ago undoubtedly included many folks who wound up opposing the controversial legislation involving public schools and labor.

“I would be shocked to find out that there aren’t a number of people who have buyer’s remorse,” said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics on the IPFW campus in Fort Wayne. As Downs pointed out, with irony, it was “buyer’s remorse” that drove many Hoosiers who supported President Obama in the 2008 election to vote against his fellow Democrats in 2010. The tea party uprising against congressional Democrats who advanced the president’s national health care reform triggered Indiana’s turnaround.

Given control of the governor’s post and both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly, the Republicans have seized their moment. Hoosiers surprised by that shouldn’t be.

“People should’ve known the Republicans would advance a pretty aggressive agenda,” Downs said. And, if the political pendulum swings the other direction in 2012, will the Democrats react the same way? “Oh, I have no doubt,” Downs said.

These mercurial waves from one election to the next have become more likely. “The potential is there for dramatic shifts in control,” Downs said of the state government.

The mood for compromise has become passé.

If the state government feels polarized, and if our reputation for producing reasonable, give-and-take, consensus-building leaders seems lost, it would be enlightening to glance back at Nov. 2, 2010. Indiana voted for this.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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