By BRIAN HOWEY
In the post-Mike Pence world of gubernatorial politics — either 2016 or 2020 — Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma is positioned as the heir apparent.
That’s not to say that another Republican, such as Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann who has just traveled to all 92 counties, won’t be there to compete. But it is Bosma holding down the most powerful legislative perch in the state. He has the most clout, has raised more than $10 million for GOP House candidates, and has potential IOUs from House Republicans all over the state. He was one of the masterminds that took a minority caucus in 2009 and forged a 60-seat majority a year later, positioning the GOP to write the new district maps resulting in his now 69-seat super majority.
As speaker, he has done some fascinating things, like appointing Democrats as committee chairs and taking transparency to a new level with the webcasting of not only House sessions, but committee hearings as well. You can be sitting in Whiting, Elberfeld or Lawrenceburg and watch the people’s business on your Mac or PC.
But Bosma is now rolling the dice of the marriage amendment in a way that could define his career.
Throughout the summer and fall, he vowed not to become a “dictator” and said that HJR-3 — the marriage amendment — would be “treated like any other bill.”
Last summer when I asked about the marriage amendment, the powerful Indianapolis attorney acknowledged that the amendment’s second sentence was troublesome. It precludes any kind of civil unions. He preferred it not be included.
I know Indiana pretty well and it’s not hard to believe that when asked whether marriage should be between one man and one woman, as is current state law, a majority of Hoosiers would agree. But the second sentence — “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized” — is not only a potentially huge legal problem that begs court challenges if passed, but it strikes many as simply unfair and mean.
On Jan. 13, when HJR-3 was debated in the House Judiciary Committee, that second sentence was a lightning rod. When Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp Jr., testifying for the amendment, was pressed on whether the second sentence would “prohibit” any type of civil unlon in the future, he agreed.
So flawed is that second sentence that House Republicans came up with House Bill 1153, which in clunky fashion attempts to “explain” what the “framers” of the amendment really meant. The problems with it are immense. The companion legislation wasn’t in the version passed by the legislature in 2011. That right there almost guarantees a legal challenge.
The end result of the Jan. 13 Judiciary hearing was gridlock, with three Republican members so concerned about the second sentence that they either planned to vote against the amendment, or were undecided. HJR-3 was in danger of going down to defeat in a Republican-dominated committee.
This is where Bosma made a decision to “own” HJR-3 and become its face. And it is where his political fate is now intertwined. Last Tuesday, he calmly announced that HJR-3 and HB1153 would be moved to the House Elections Committee. And about 30 hours later, by a party line 9-3 vote, it was passed on to the House floor where it will be heard this coming week.
State Rep. Eric Turner, who sponsored the bill, testified, “The constitutional amendment we are proposing simply protects existing state law.”
But when Fort Wayne Democrat State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta asked, “This will outlaw civil unions, correct?” Turner responded, “Yes.”
So it isn’t really the same as the state law that was passed with bipartisan support in 1997 and signed by Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon. It will outlaw civil unions at the very time when polling shows that most Americans and most Hoosiers believe that same-sex couples should at least be accommodated with property, benefits, taxation, hospitalization and death bed rights.
Bosma, along with House and Senate Republicans, released a poll last week by Chesapeake Beach Consulting that showed most Hoosiers want to vote on the constitutional amendment. They favor the concept of marriage between one man, one woman with 58 percent support.
But the devil in the polling details was this: 54 percent favor removing the second sentence.
Why wouldn’t attorney Bosma, acknowledging the amendment is flawed with the second sentence, insist on its removal? If this is important enough to enshrine in the state’s constitution, shouldn’t it be done correctly?
The problem is, Gov. Mike Pence, while being a long-time advocate of the amendment, doesn’t want to run for reelection in 2016 with HJR-3 on the ballot. And he should know how hot button social politics can impact a campaign. He became the first governor in 50 years to win office with less than 50 percent of the vote in 2012, and it happened because another candidate on the ticket made outrageous remarks about abortion and rape, and it sent female voters fleeing the Republican ticket in droves.
And now we watch the state’s second most powerful Republican caught in an issue fraught with legal problems and consequences yet unknown.
— Brian Howey publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.