Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Indiana Senate Republicans "Compromise" LGBT Rights-Religious Freedom Bill Represents Disastrous Political Strategy

During Organization Day yesterday Indiana State Senate Republican leaders announced that they will be supporting compromise bill during the 2016 legislative session that expands the state's civil rights law to include sexual orientation while promising to also protect religious freedom. 

I guess that political activist Eric Miller's claim the Republican legislative leadership planned a "sneak attack" on Organization Day, i.e. the passage of a bill to protect LGBT rights, was an exaggeration more than a fabrication.

This column is not about the merits of the detailed bill that attempts to forge a compromise.  It rather

Senate President Pro Tem David Long
is about the political strategy involved, an extremely foolish political strategy.

I know exactly what the political thinking is behind the compromise civil rights bill. GOP strategists believe that by passing the measure in 2016 the Republicans will take the contentious issue off the table and the legislators and Governor Pence can run for re-election without dealing with the matter.  The strategy represents an extremely unsophisticated understanding of how the political game is played and will undoubtedly doom Pence's re-election efforts and cause Republicans to lose seats in the legislature.

The first rule of political strategy is that you never ever alienate your base.  You can irritate your base supporters, but if you alienate them you are finished.  By Republicans cowering and doing the "fix" to the RFRA last session (which I have argued didn't actually do anything), Governor Pence and the Republican leadership irritated their evangelical base.  But they were willing to forgive. Now with the GOP legislative leadership going further and supporting a compromise civil rights bill the Republican leaders are making the fatal mistake of alienating their critical base of supporters.

But what about the details of the compromise?    They simply do not matter.  The two page RFRA got horribly misconstrued by media and political activists who were too lazy to read the bill or simply had a political agenda that required being dishonest about the law.  Why in the world do Senate leaders believe that won't happen with this new bill that covers some 20 or so pages?

Bottom line, conservatives will attack the bill as going too far and not protecting religious freedom sufficiently.  Liberals will oppose the bill as not going far enough.   Further, there is no reason for Democrats to compromise as they believe they have Republicans on the run on the issue. And since the Republicans are actually running from the issue of religious freedom, can you blame Democrats for thinking they have a winning political issue?

By trying to please everyone, the Senate Republican leaders' compromise civil rights bill will please no one.  And it will drive a wedge between the GOP establishment and critical evangelical support.  Pence's re-election is doomed if he signs any version of that bill.

A more sophisticated and successful political strategy would be for Indiana Republicans to say they are proud to support religious freedom and publicly demand that the Democratic Party and their candidates do the same.  By instead pursuing this compromise strategy the Republicans are sending the message to the voters that they did something wrong by supporting religious freedom last year and are trying to beg the electorate forgive the party for its transgressions.

There is a word that describes the Indiana Senate Republican leaders' strategy on the compromise civil rights bill:  Disastrous.


Anonymous said...

Religious conscious was never meant to be subject to mandatory State qualifiers and cleaver and wordy needle threading. That's why there is a Conscientious objection status for individual going to war and should be recognized in this case as well.

Anonymous said...

So it would work if this year's general assembly just issued a statement that they were very proud of whatever it was they were around of and going home?

Nicolas said...

I object to the notion that religious conscience merits more protection than any other. The issue is property rights, not religion.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Nicolas, you might object to it, but religious beliefs and practices do enjoy elevated protection due to its enshrinement in the U.S and Indiana Constitutions. Your beef is really with the drafters of the constitutions.

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Leon Dixon ·
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Anonymous said... For its application to those in the Stupid Party who got an "affective" education courtesy of John Dewey and then spent the rest of their life asleep to reality. It isn't like R leadership in our Statehouse has a reputation for virtue.