David Ricks spoke uncomfortable truths to Indiana’s leaders the other day.
The chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly and Co. told those gathered at the Economic Club of Indiana that the state was falling behind.
Not so, said Ricks.
Although he was more polite and diplomatic than I’m about to be, Ricks argued that Hoosier lawmakers spend too much time discouraging members of disparate communities from living here, indulging in battles over education that make no sense and engaging in culture wars that benefit no one and rack up incredible costs in terms of both time and money.
He’s right about that.
For too long, Republican lawmakers have acted as if low tax rates and deregulation were the only things that mattered when it came to economic development. Whenever business wanted another tax cut or a fresh way to exploit the workforce, the legislators and a string of governors were only too happy to comply.
At the same time, whenever someone pointed that quality of life and basic equity issues might be things to consider, especially when economists were warning of a huge coming labor shortage, the lawmakers dismissed those concerns with a sweep of the hand.
Then these GOP lawmakers launched themselves into anti-labor campaigns such as the right-to-work jihad or gay-bashing crusades such as the ill-named Religious Freedom Restoration Act crusade. Then, as if they had not done enough to convince potential employees and taxpayers that Indiana might not be a welcoming place, they declared war on trans athletes and went on seek-and-destroy missions to purge critical race thinking from Hoosier classrooms, even though it isn’t being taught there.
Most of the time, these Republican legislators thought of their pogroms as cost-free excursions, good-old-boy bear-baiting exercises of adversaries they couldn’t see a political cost in tormenting.
There always was a human cost to these efforts.
Telling people that they don’t belong or that they don’t even matter leaves wounds that can take generations to heal—if they mend at all. The fact that Hoosiers so often have sought ways to exclude speaks volumes, not much of it good, about the moral climate of the state.
Every nation on earth and every state in the union now competes to find good labor—and Indiana has spent years telling any worker who is gay or trans or has a family member or friend who is gay or trans that he or she is not valued here.
And, while folks such as Ricks are saying that Indiana needs to do more to train and educate workers, we Hoosiers are engaging in stupid fights to try to make sure students learn fewer things, not more.
Once upon a time a voice such as Ricks’ would have put a stop to this foolishness. The Republican Party in Indiana built itself around catering to the needs and even the whims of business.
But that was then.
This is now.
While some more forward-thinking Republican leaders such as Gov. Eric Holcomb have tried to make the discussion about economic development in Indiana a more expansive one, they are in a minority in the GOP.
The new breed of Republican elected officials thinks keeping taxes low entitles them to conduct as many campaigns of persecution as they wish.
That is, if they even think in terms of economic development. Many of them believe their personal prejudices trump any other consideration. That is why so many Republican legislators contended that being spared the temporary inconvenience of wearing a mask at a cost of spending millions of dollars in unnecessary COVID-related hospital stays was a fair trade.
David Ricks tried to tell such folks important truths the other day.
The bet here is that they won’t listen to him, either.
Listening really isn’t their thing.