by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
As we go into the third week of the Indiana General Assembly, I’ve been hearing some folks lament that lawmakers aren’t tackling a “big thing” or that Gov. Eric Holcomb has not offered a “bold agenda.” In other words, people are complaining that there is no significant initiative that costs a lot of money, takes years to accomplish and grabs a lot of headlines.
Sigh! You know, some days it’s okay just to govern because not every issue needs to be tackled like it was the Great Depression.
Gov: Eric Holcomb spelled out his agenda in his State of the State address, and there were no big surprises: improve and skill up Indiana’s workforce, continue the fight against opioids, work to give Hoosier kids a better education. He did add infant mortality to the list, citing statistics that more than 600 children born in Indiana never make it to their first birthday.
Statehouse Democrats said the agenda lacked boldness and leadership. As an example, they pointed to the fact that the governor in his 30-minute address, spent less than two minutes talking about the recent controversy at the Department of Child Services, where former director Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned leaving behind a scathing indictment of the agency saying it was underfunded and children were going to die. They also say the governor should have talked about redistricting and bias crimes.
Partisan politics aside, there are those of us who would argue not every legislative session should be marked with a “bold agenda designed to have the state marching into the 21st Century.” Sometimes it’s okay the keep the trains running on time. Because, if you think about it, a lot of heavy lifting has already been done over the last 12 years: property tax caps, education reform, restructuring the tax and regulatory climate to make Indiana more business friendly and not mention a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar road funding plan.
What more do these people want?
In the more than 20 years that I’ve covered and written about government at the state and local levels, I’ve always had problems with the notion that lawmakers must “do something.” Whenever I hear someone say the government must “do something,” usually that means to make a big announcement, spend a lot of money and at the end of the day absolutely nothing changes.
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Take DCS, for example. Statehouse Democrats are clamoring that the government “do something” (which actually means spend more money even though the state has increased funding for the agency by more than $600 million over the last couple of years). Instead of holding a news conference and posturing, Holcomb has done the smart thing, hired an outside organization that specializes in looking at child welfare agencies to do a top to bottom review of the DCS and make the appropriate recommendations. Holcomb has also said he will be open and transparent about the process and keep lawmakers and Hoosiers in the loop. Now there’s a concept. When you have a problem, instead of rushing headlong into it with no real thought or plan, you take immediate steps to mitigate any damage, while at the same time do a deep dive to get to the cause of the problem, so you can address it long-term and not have to come back next year and fix that same problem again.
That’s how you “do something.” And you don’t need a “big thing” to that. Some of you may find this hard to believe, but when you engage in good governance and take care of the day to day stuff, you will find that the likelihood that you will need to “do something” tends to decrease dramatically. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have an emergency pop up from time to time that will require immediate attention. But it will be much easier to put out that political fire if you’re not spending all day looking for ones that don’t exist and spending a lot of time and taxpayers’ money to put them out.
Abdul is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at email@example.com. His opinions are his own, but you’re free to adopt them at any time.