Perhaps it was just a quirk of fate that the Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments on a state law that would expand the power of ideological extremists just as the primary season was kicking into high gear.
Then again, perhaps not.
A group of Indiana’s most conservative lawmakers decided that the best way to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic was to pretend it didn’t exist. They chafed at the way Gov. Eric Holcomb—who also is a conservative and a Republican—managed the crisis, largely because he refused to act as if having thousands of Hoosiers die wasn’t a problem.
The extremist legislators’ response was to try to curtail the governor’s powers. They wanted to be able to call themselves into session and establish themselves as an executive committee of 150 to govern during crises such as the pandemic.
They passed a law allowing them to do so.
The governor vetoed it.
They overrode the veto.
Then the governor sued, arguing that the law violated the Indiana constitution.
After many episodes of absurdity—not the least of which involved Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita arguing that he outranked the governor and that he could fairly represent both parties in the dispute—the litigation has made its way to the Supreme Court.
Something needs to be said before we go any further.
The powers allowed to the governor under Indiana’s constitution already are among the weakest in the nation.
The governor’s veto is but one example.
If the president of the United States vetoes a measure, both houses of Congress must summon two-thirds majorities to override the chief executive’s thumbs-down. The hefty majority needed to overrule the president is supposed to serve as a protection against having small, narrow or sectional interests who have secured a temporary advantage exert control over the entire citizenry.
A veto by Indiana’s governor can be overridden with a simple majority.
In other words, if the same number of legislators vote to overturn a veto as originally voted for the measure, it becomes law.
What the legislators, who have narrower and narrower bases of support—more on that shortly—are trying to do now is strip the governor, who is elected by all the voters of the state of Indiana, of still more power.
Worse, they say they do it in the name of restoring power to the people.
The truth is that our representative government has become increasingly unrepresentative.
As the means of gerrymandering legislative districts—drawing electoral maps so officeholders choose the voters they want rather than the other way around—becomes ever more efficient, the results are less and less reflective of the public will.
The position the extremists in the legislature pushed through with this challenge was advanced by only one candidate in the 2020 gubernatorial race, Libertarian Donald Rainwater. He claimed just over 11% of the vote.
Holcomb, the governor the extremists are challenging, won just under 57% of the vote. The Democratic candidate, Woody Myers, argued for still more stringent responses to the pandemic. He captured 32% of the vote.
But, because we have legislative maps that reward rigid ideologues, the views of nearly 90% of the voters are being ignored so that 10% can feel placated.
It’s only fair that this mess landed in court because the courts helped create it.
By allowing politicians again and again to draw maps designed to thwart rather than reflect the will of the people from whom government should draw its power, the courts have made conflicts such as this inevitable.
In most districts now, the election that matters is in the primary.
Almost inevitably in a contested primary, it is the most unbending, ideological and extreme candidate who wins.
That means, as bad as things are now, they’re likely to get worse.
Unless we find a way to fix this, that is.
Because it’s the problem that keeps us from solving every other problem.