Monday, April 03, 2006

If Only Bosma And House GOP Could Shed Their Extremist Social Agenda

House Speaker Brian Bosma lays out the case in a guest column in today's Star for why he and the House Republicans should retain their slim majority in the House. If you can forget about the extremist social agenda he and his colleagues have pursued, his case is very compelling.

Gov. Mitch Daniels inherited a huge budget deficit from his Democratic predecessor. At the insistence of House Republicans, the GOP-led legislature crafted a state budget which relied on no new taxes and incentivized Gov. Daniels to find more savings, which he did. As Bosma put it, "In November 2004, Republicans inherited a state that faced unprecedented challenges. Indiana faced a $600 million budget hole, owed $721 million to local cities, schools and universities, and had spent every dime of its reserves." The state now has the first truly balanced budget in nearly a decade. Bosma has earned bragging rights on this issue.

Gov. Mitch Daniels inherited a scandal plagued-administration. The GOP-led House helped Daniels create an "independent inspector general", who has uncovered numerous cases of fraud and corruption in state government since his appointment. Unfortunately, Gov. Daniels' Inspector General compromised his own integrity recently by getting involved in partisan politics involving an offer of a state job, which prompted an investigation by the Marion Co. Prosecutor's office. Nonetheless, Bosma and his GOP-led House deserve credit for creating the statutory framework to help clean up state government.

On providing a 10-year funding plan for the first time in the state's history, Bosma and his GOP-led House must be given high marks. Bosma explains, "With the passage of the governor's Major Moves roads initiative, Indiana addressed its long-standing road funding deficit and becomes the first state in the nation to fully fund its 10-year road construction plan. We will have money in the bank (earning interest) to build every road project to make Indiana more accessible to employers and families desiring to locate here. Not only will this return Indiana to its status as the "Crossroads of America," it is projected to create 130,000 new jobs, especially in northern and southern Indiana where they are so desperately needed."

Indiana has had a long history of being on the wrong side of burdensome state regulation in important areas of commerce. By lagging behind the nation in deregulating our state's banks and utilities, Indiana lost out in the consolidation of these industries, taking corporate headquarters and jobs outside the state. For a change, Indiana will not be lagging the country in the critical telecommunications industry as a result of legislation passed by the GOP-led House this year. Bosma say, "We adopted the strongest telecommunications reform legislation in the nation, with changes designed to streamline our laws and create another 20,000 jobs, potentially lower every Hoosier's cable bill, and make high-speed communications more available throughout the state."

Bosma and his GOP-led House also demonstrated they are willing to throw out "politics as usual" and adopt some critical legislative reforms. The biggest change is the opening up of the House proceedings by broadasting over the Internet live streaming video of House and Senate legislative sessions and key committee meetings. This opens a window to the legislature for all Hoosiers, and it allows any citizen who wants to more actively participate in the business of the legislature to take advantage of this free medium. Bosma, unlike his Senate counterpart, ended the self-serving and indefensible health insurance for life legislative perk much to the disappointment of many members. By contrast, House Democratic leader Pat Bauer will not say whether he will end the perk if he should become Speaker of the House again.

As Bosma sums it up, "House Republicans started this two-year General Assembly by asking what Indiana should be a decade from now, and moving toward it. There is no doubt this General Assembly will be looked upon as the one that turned Indiana in a new direction." Unfortunately, Bosma didn't turn Indiana in a new direction when it comes to hot-burning social issues.

Bosma tackled a very divisive and extremist social agenda. He set the state on the road to adopting one of the broadest anti-gay marriage amendments in the country--so broad it sweeps away rights of gay and straight people alike. Caught up in the anti-gay hysteria, Bosma allowed an extremist member to offer a constitutionally-suspect proposal this session to nullify local non-discrimination ordinances which offered more protection than either the U.S. or state constitution; he later had to force the member to back down when members discovered it would also nullify many other ordinances.

His stubborn advocacy for sectarian prayers and the ensuing legal battle has made Indiana the laughingstock of the country. He originally advocated the teaching of "intelligent design" in our public schools until the idea generated a mostly negative public backlash, and was summarily slapped down by a conservative Republican judge in Pennsylvania when public schools there attempted to implement the controversial policy.

He allowed anti-immigrant legislation to progress, which would have stripped away government benefits and services for the families of illegal immigrants regardless of need or circumstances, angering and alienating the state's growing Hispanic population in the process.

And the efforts of his caucus to adopt sweeping new anti-abortion laws were only thwarted when Senate leaders allowed them to die on the calendar.

So which of these issues will Bosma and his GOP House most be remembered? That's the 64 million dollar question. People who care about these burning social issues will vote accordingly. That is their purpose after all to divide and polarize the electorate along political and cultural fault lines. It's noteworthy that Bosma drops any mention of the divisive social issues in describing his "progressive agenda." He's going to leave that job to the Eric Millers, Micah Clarks and Curt Smiths, who he can rely on to turn out wedge issue voters on election day. It is unfortunate that Bosma and his House Republican colleagues believe they can only win by using these divisive social issues rather than the "progressive agenda" they successfully tackled over the past two years.

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