Howey: Lawmakers out of sync with voters; does it matter?

Brian Howey

FANCY GAP, Va. — Hoosier families gathered last week for Thanksgiving and while politics is a strictly forbidden topic at some tables, for others there were discussions on whether a loved one should launch a campaign for the General Assembly. The filing process for primary elections begins on Jan. 10 and ends at noon Feb. 9.

This deliberative process is likely to be enhanced as 2023 rolls into 2024, because the policies on two issues — abortion and cannabis legalization — reveal that the current political establishment is out of whack with public opinion.

On abortion, the 2022 Hoosier Survey by Ball State University’s Bowen Center found that a majority of Hoosiers surveyed (56.7%) believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Most Hoosiers — more than 76% — find abortion to be an important or at least somewhat important issue. This survey occurred after the Republican supermajorities passed the nation's most far-reaching abortion restrictions that previous August.

On cannabis legalization, according to the 2022 BSU Hoosier survey of 600 Hoosier adults, 85% said marijuana should be legal in some form or another (29% said they were for medical marijuana only, while 56% said they were for marijuana for personal use).

The opinion of a majority of Hoosier voters are similar to those sentiments in other Republican or "red" states.

Earlier this month, Ohio voters passed Issue 2 (the legalization of recreational cannabis) by a 57% to 43%. Other cannabis referendums have passed in conservative states such as Montana with 52%. In 2018 Michigan voters passed recreational cannabis with 56%. In 2020, the Illinois General Assembly legalized recreational marijuana.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of cannabis for adult recreational use.

Voters have also been voting to preserve abortion rights, even in the most conservative states. Earlier this month, Ohio voters by a 56.6% to 43.4% verdict to amend the state's constitution to give individuals the “right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including on abortion.

Kansas voters passed by 59% guaranteeing abortion rights in 2022, just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court negated Roe v. Wade. In other red states like Kentucky and Montana, 52% of voters backed similar measures.

Results from a Wall Street Journal-NORC poll show Americans’ support for abortion access “is at one of the highest levels on record since nonpartisan researchers began tracking it in the 1970s.” Nearly nine in 10 poll respondents support abortion access in the event of rape or incest, or when a woman’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy.

Currently Indiana is dominated by Republicans. Not a single Republican who voted for restricting abortions lost in 2022, three months after the new law was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb. Democrats picked up only one seat in the House. Republicans have also blocked all cannabis reform bills.

In the secretary of state's race that year, Republican Diego Morales defeated Democrat Destiny Wells by 14%. Wells is now challenging Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita, who has been an ardent pro-life defender. He was recently sanctioned by the Indiana Supreme Court for comments he made on the case of a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim who successfully sought an abortion in Indiana while the procedure was still legal here.

Rokita was found by the Supreme Court to have engaged in "attorney misconduct" earlier this month.

"We believe the population does not have the time for this side show," Wells said in kicking off her campaign. "We want to get back to serving Hoosiers."

Rokita shrugged off the Supreme Court sanctions, saying, “First things first, I deny and was not found to have violated anyone’s confidentiality or any laws. I was not fined. And I will continue as Indiana’s duly elected attorney general.”

In 1986, House Speaker J. Roberts Dailey was upset for reelection, in part due to his opposition to a state lottery. In a referendum two years later, voters passed the lottery issue with more than 60% of the vote.

In order to change the dynamic at the Statehouse, someone is going to have to lose a general election. Until that occurs, nothing will change, no matter what the public sentiment is.

Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Indiana lawmakers out of sync with voters, but does it matter?