by Scott Pelath
At a time when Americans decry the national fissures of the Trumpian Era, Indiana House Democrats are proving one can wage an effective opposition without polarization, stalemate, and puerile name-calling.
As House Democratic Leader, I have emphasized three essential duties of the minority party: First, help the Republicans when it helps the state. Secondly, critique Republican policies so they are blunted or improved. Third, articulate and debate alternatives to offer real choices at election time.
During this year’s legislative session, our impact was significant. Consider the debate over improving our infrastructure.
Any motorist can tell that Indiana’s roads and bridges need immediate attention. I-65 was shut down last summer, a highway cascaded into the Ohio River, and drivers everywhere tired of patches, potholes, and traffic.
House Democrats offered a simple answer: putting every last tax you pay at the pump into asphalt and iron.
House Republicans offered a program with an objectionable catch: raising taxes on consumers. That was a tough sell at a time when the state has deep reserves on hand and the ruling Republican regime had just cut billions in taxes for corporations, estates and the top 10 percent of earners. Now they were asking the rest of us to pay more.
Democrats fought for their own plan while holding the line against new taxes. The result? The state won an infrastructure reinvestment without tax increases. Even better, more of the sales tax on gasoline will go to fix the roads you drive. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a credible step ahead.
Democrats provided alternatives, thoughtfully critiqued our adversaries, and helped pass road funding that made sense. That is how you do it.
And while our laws do not yet match changing sentiments, Democratic work on civil rights is sowing future economic rewards. For the first time ever, we forced a series of votes to protect our LGBT friends and neighbors in the workplace. While they were defeated, each proposal won the support of all Democrats and a growing number of enlightened Republicans. Because Democrats are drawing distinctions, the final rejection of old-fashioned thinking is inevitable. Indiana will escape the image of intolerance and be seen as a place where the best and brightest want to stay.
It is not only about our sense of fairness in the modern world. It also is also about our future prosperity.
When Carrier Corporation announced that it was sending thousands of steelworker jobs to Mexico, House Democrats asked why we should reward companies that unpatriotically move jobs to Mexico and China. More than 30 House Republicans agreed with our crusade to revoke their planned corporate tax cuts.
Although our plan was scuttled before adjournment, we put Statehouse apologists and soulless executives everywhere on notice. If you want to chase cheap wages abroad, do not expect a pat on the head. Do not forsake our hard-working citizens without accepting consequences.
This session was not all peaches and cream, to be sure. Assaults on teachers and traditional schools continue. Extremists wantonly attacked women’s reproductive rights in a manner that was over-the-top for even historically pro-life lawmakers. But at least the lines were drawn, and the people will have choices this November.
House Democrats believe in allowing wages to rise, treating workers and consumers fairly, and building prosperity through education and basic services to our citizens and noble businesses. Most of all, we want Indiana to be a place where our kids and grandkids want to remain.
And Democrats are ready to lead them into the future.
Scott Pelath is the House Democratic Leader.