News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Max Jones

February 27, 2012

MAX JONES: The sun never sets on Indiana’s time-zone debate

TERRE HAUTE — When Mitch Daniels aggressively pushed for Indiana to adopt daylight-saving time in his first term as governor, I admit I was not enthusiastic. The state, I figured, had found a way to handle its awkward time-zone geography by merely maintaining the time status quo while states around it changed their clocks twice a year. We peacefully coexisted with that strategy for a couple of decades.

Indiana certainly took lumps in the court of public opinion for its peculiar approach. It was often the butt of jokes, even becoming a story line on the popular prime-time dramatic series, “The West Wing.” Most Hoosiers, however, did not care. We were in a unique position because of our presence on the border of two time zones, and we were doing our best to cope with it.

With Daniels and the statewide business community leading the charge, daylight-saving time finally caught hold in the Legislature and passed. Counties had the option of choosing which time zone — Eastern or Central — to adopt. Either way, the chosen zone would remain constant year-round, even though clocks would change to conform to DST in spring and fall.

Most followed Marion County’s lead and chose Eastern time to sync up with major media and business markets on the East Coast. A few, including counties in northwest and southwest Indiana, picked Central time. That was better in the northwest because those counties were aligned with Illinois and Chicago, which were in the Central time zone, and in the southwest because both Illinois and Kentucky had such a profound influence on Evansville (Vanderburgh) and surrounding Hoosier counties.

Terre Haute and Vigo County wisely stuck with the Indianapolis clock, despite being a border county with Illinois.

Over time, I’ve grown to like daylight-saving time and the Eastern time zone. It’s even better now that the time change doesn’t occur until later in the fall and earlier in the spring. The late sundowns during summer months are particularly pleasing, and consistent television programming keeps my sporadic viewing routines on track.

All in all, daylight-saving time hasn’t been a bad change. And I don’t hear many people complaining about it any more.

So I was a little surprised this week when I read about an organized campaign in the Legislature to adopt a resolution asking the federal government to conduct hearings on switching the entire state to Central time.

The effort stalled, thankfully, when lawmakers decided not to vote on it. That killed the resolution — at least for this year. I suspect it will be back. The effort is fueled by the Central Time Coalition, which argues that moving the state to Central time would help businesses that deal with Chicago and the West Coast.

I doubt the proposal will gain much traction in the future. Yet, one never knows. I didn’t expect right-to-work to ever raise its ugly head in Indiana again, but it did.

Right-to-work was adopted in the 1950s and rescinded in the 1960s. Since then, bipartisan consensus dictated the issue was better left alone. But a new wave of conservative politics in 2012 crawled through a window of opportunity and, despite considerable and bitter opposition, right-to-work once again became law.

As with right-to-work, I believe the time zone issue would be best left alone. But I won’t be surprised if the push to adopt Central time emerges even stronger than before. Stranger and more unfortunate things have happened in our Legislature. Right-to-work is a prime exhibit.

Max Jones can be reached at (812) 231-4336, or by email at max.jones@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TribStarMax.

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