The Senate passed the bill; the House sponsor, Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, declined to call it for a vote because she didn’t care for the watering-down. It is expected to resurface in conference committee.
The proposed safeguards just didn’t make good policy, insisted Merritt, who is a vice president with Indiana Rail Road Co., and Ubelhor, who is operations manager for Peabody Energy. Their employers echoed those sentiments to The Star’s Tony Cook.
That same proclamation of pure impartiality was expressed by House Speaker Pro Tempore Eric Turner, R-Cicero, regarding the company for which his daughter just happens to be a lobbyist and the company his son just happens to head.
In neither of these cases did the legislators involved broadcast their personal ties to the lobbies or offer to recuse themselves from the proceedings. In some states, potential conflicts such as these would raise red flags and force at least the consideration of recusal — and without having to be ferreted out by the press. In Indiana, the typical response to calls for these and other reforms is wounded indignation.
The primary defense offered for the Indiana situation is that a part-time legislature inevitably feels the intrusion of day jobs, and thus the challenge of staying neutral. The preponderance of evidence, particularly as detailed in a recent series of columns by The Star’s Matthew Tully, is that the challenge is not being met and the intrusions are a fact of Statehouse life. As Julia Vaughn of the citizens lobby Common Cause points out, many states manage to have citizen legislatures without cutting slack over conflict of interest.
Stringent rules, rather than blind trust, are a fact of life in other realms of government. Transparency. Money limits. Distancing from one’s employers, benefactors and family. Barring a change in human nature and a reversal of Indiana history, there is no excuse for not writing stronger protections, in all those areas, into law.