Commentary: Make Lawmakers Wear Their Labels
By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – Long ago, the late Indianapolis News political pundit Ed Ziegner used to roast legislators at the end of each session of the Indiana General Assembly.
One year, he absolutely scorched the lawmakers.
He said that they should list their sponsors or the special interests who claimed their true allegiance on their shirts, like Little League baseball teams. But a shirt wouldn’t be enough for every legislator, Ziegner said.
Some had sold themselves so often that they’d need capes to list every group that had bought them or otherwise owned them.
I thought of Ziegner’s jibe the other day when I attended a press conference at the Statehouse. Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and two parents whose lives and children had been touched by gun violence wanted to retrieve two common-sense firearm-safety bills from the legislative scrap heap.
They said, over and over again, they just wanted a chance to make their case. They wanted a hearing and a vote, they said and would accept the outcome, win or lose.
Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, trolled at the edge of the press conference. Lucas loves to identify himself as the chief cheerleader and camp follower for the National Rifle Association. Until he developed a recent infatuation with medical marijuana laws, almost every bill Lucas introduced involved loosening Indiana’s already lax gun laws.
He, of course, is supposed to represent the interests of his community.
But, judging by Lucas’s priorities, the biggest problems the good people of Seymour’s face are that they can’t get enough guns or pot.
Lucas waited for a nanosecond at most after the press conference’s conclusion to find a TV camera into which he could bloviate his strange interpretation of the Second Amendment. In his version of that amendment, the 13 words of the militia purpose clause – the part that allows for reasonable regulation of guns – do not exist.
He neatly overlooked the fact that the parents at the press conference also were exercising a constitutional right – the First Amendment one guaranteeing that they can petition the government for redress of grievances.
Someday, Lucas will have to read the other 7,577 words in the Constitution – or at least get someone to read them to him.
Not that it would matter much. Because Lucas is so wedded to his special-interest love, he doesn’t much care about the feelings – much less the constitutional rights – of people who don’t agree with him.
That’s why he takes pride in bullying citizens who come to testify in favor of sensible gun laws. It’s also why he likes to boast there is no gun-control law – no matter how sensible – that he and his fellow gun-lobby compliant legislators ever will consider.
That’s also why, no matter how many Hoosiers die in gun-related violence, legislative session after legislative session will come and go without our lawmakers doing anything about the problem.
Nor are guns the only example.
For years, public health advocates have recommended an increase in the cigarette tax. A hike of $2 would produce $360 million in annual revenue for the state until it started to do its real work. That real work involves discouraging Hoosiers from smoking.
This would reduce health-care costs dramatically.
This should be a no-brainer – a plan that brings money in on the front end saves it on the back end and make people healthier in between.
But this bill, too, languishes, waiting for a hearing that won’t come.
The same goes for proposals regarding hate-crimes legislation, redistricting reform and any number of other basic and often popular measures.
The common denominator is they die without getting a committee hearing or vote. A committee chairperson or other powerful legislator – one generally from a gerrymandered district – bottles up the bill and avoids the inconvenience of having legislators vote on a measure people favor but an entrenched special interest doesn’t.
Confusing, isn’t it?
Ziegner’s suggestion offered in jest, though, would clear up a lot of that confusion.
If we made legislators who carry water for the gun lobby wear NRA shirts around the Statehouse or the lawmakers who want to make it easy for cigarette manufacturers to market smokes to kids sport Big Tobacco jerseys, we could eliminate a lot of the mystery.
It would make the action easier to follow.
FOOTNOTE: John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.