Bil Browning

Indiana Gov Mitch Daniels vs The Religious Right

Filed By Bil Browning | November 28, 2007 9:10 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Advance America, Curt Smith, Eric Miller, evangelical Christian, Indiana Family Institute, Micah Clark, Mitch Daniels, religious right, Republicans

Recent developments around Indiana have put the future of our constitutional amendment in a state of flux. Yesterday, I blogged about the Indiana legislature and polling on the amendment by the Indianapolis Star. Today I'll look at Republican Governor Mitch Daniels and the effect the religious right can have on the issue.

While the Governor has a one step forward and two steps back relationship with both the LGBT community and the religious right, he's never been known as a far-right demagogue. He's no Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney.

The religious right lobby might be able to force the Governor's hand this session. Will political considerations be enough to influence the one major Republican force in state government that has refused to cave in to pandering to evangelicals? Let's look at what we already know and what could happen in the next few months.

A Blade Cuts Both Ways

Governor Daniels (nicknamed "The Blade" by his former boss, George W) recently got a shocker from the Indianapolis Star. Staring at re-election next year, Daniels' disapproval rating has risen to 50% and in hypothetical match ups against both current Democratic contenders, he loses the race. Indiana's anti-incumbent fever continues.

Daniels, a former president of Eli Lilly's North American pharmaceutical operations, touted job creation and financial stability as one of his top priorities for Indiana. Unfortunately, as with his former position as W's director of the Office of Management and Budget, the promises haven't matched the results. (Remember, Daniels estimated the cost of the War in Iraq as $50-$60 billion dollars as part of Bush's team.)

"Daniels is a businessman and the state should be ran like a corporation," was the Republican mantra in 2004. Hoosiers have found though, if Indiana is a corporation we're more than likely K-Mart; we just keep limping onward with no end in sight. Mitch Daniels is no Martha Stewart either.

Thirty-five percent of those polled said things in Indiana are headed in the right direction, while 57 percent think things have gotten off on the wrong track.

Many viewed their own circumstances pessimistically as well, with 27 percent saying they are better off financially now than they were four years ago, and 32 percent saying they are worse off.

With Daniels' re-election hinging in part on convincing Hoosiers that he has turned Indiana around, those numbers signal that the governor has a big selling job ahead.

Who were some of the amendment's largest opponents last session? Eli Lilly, Cummins Engine, Emmis Communications, Dow AgroSciences, and Wellpoint all actively opposed the hateful legislation as "bad for business." Big business spoke. Mitch Daniels stayed silent.

With public support for the amendment sliding south as fast as his approval rating, will Daniels finally take a stand against the horrible legislation or try to round up conservative votes by throwing the LGBT community in front of his campaign RV?

The Religious Right (and Wrong)

Primary opponents are certain to crawl out of the woodwork with the Guv looking that weak. One almost certain possibility is Eric Miller who ran against Daniels in the last Republican primary. He owns and runs Advance America, supposedly a "not-for-profit" right-wing Christian organization, but truly just a vehicle to line Miller's pockets and advance his political career.

Advance America's main thrust on their web site is clearly property taxes and promoting Eric Miller. Even though Miller was one of the main proponents of SJR-7, it doesn't even warrant a mention on his front page. Will Miller wage another primary campaign against the wounded Governor on the back of rising taxes? Sources say yes.

Miller's conservative org works hand-in-hand with the Indiana Family Institute (IFI) and Micah Clark's American Family Association of Indiana. The big three fundie groups banded together a few years ago to pass the amendment, but inside sources tell me everything isn't roses and sunshine between the three groups.

In a recent blog post about the opening day of the session, the IFI talk about their priorities for this year. State-sponsored prayer and property taxes are mentioned before - four paragraphs down - the constitutional amendment. True believers, they would rather focus on dividing Hoosiers by sexuality than chase Caesar's coin according to the post.

The marriage amendment is our priority. It has arguably more long-term impact on Hoosiers than property taxes, but both are paramount to the future- one for your pocketbook and one for your cultural norms. IFI believes that both can be devastating to Hoosier families in the wrong doses.

Miller is known for his narcissistic populism and his change of course isn't a surprise. No one believes he is a devout prude instead of a pandering and money grubbing social climber. But while the IFI is claiming SJR-7 as their main priority, it ranks third in the post itself.

Will there be a divide in the far right community? Has part of the coalition become distracted by the latest cause du jour? Will personal animosities help to fuel the fire? We can only hope so. Maybe Miller's vanity will finally push the true believers away.

Miller is going to try to influence the other conservatives into supporting his candidacy for Governor. Will he be successful or will these two groups stand with the Guv in protest of Miller's peacocking?

An Unholy Alliance?

Governor Daniels has come under criticism by evangelicals for sending a welcome letter to Indy Pride and not actively supporting the amendment. During his administration he has stayed unusually silent on the issue, instead referring reporters to legislators.

After one right-winger e-mail attack when he was quoted in the Indianapolis Star as saying Indiana didn't have "the luxury of division," Daniels sent out his own return e-mail telling the fundies he was misquoted and how much he supported "traditional marriage."

The Governor has two ways to handle this. He can choose to pander to conservatives by supporting SJR-7 and cutting Eric Miller off at the knees with the church crowd. Or he can stand firm with other moderate Republicans more interested in making money than marriage and defend his stance beside big business.

In the face of declining support for a constitutional amendment, the Governor would be best served with some advice from my Grandma. "You dance with the one who brought you." Our state's largest businesses say it would be bad for business and the Governor should too.

If he suddenly flipped into a born again marriage proponent it would ring hollow. By aligning with the religious right it would end up hurting his campaign instead of helping it. After all, he's no Mitt Romney.

(This is the 2nd post in a series on SJR-7, the proposed Indiana constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions. The other posts are "The fate of Indiana's anti-marriage amendment" and "What will happen to Indiana's marriage amendment?.")

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His property tax proposal didn't win him any friends in the business community. I'm hoping that isn't evidence that he will side with the fundies. Or maybe that won't be so bad either. Sometimes I think they purposely say they will do one thing and then work behind the scenes to make certain nothing changes, that way the money keeps rolling in.

Once while on a state visit to Canada with Governor Bill O'Neill (who died last week), I was at breakfast with him and his chief of staff. I asked them if they were worried about the upcoming gubernatorial election in Connecticut. They both looked at me and without saying a word reached into their pockets and pounded out onto the table whatever money they had. Then the Governor said to me "As long as the people have this in their pockets they're going to re-elect me." He was right. The instant folks feel that they are less well off, they cast about for new leadership. It really is the defining issue, as viewed correctly through the eyes of insider politicos.

PS: I lived for a year in the tiny town of St. Meinrad, Indiana. The folks were a...a...cautious lot. Friendly, but cautious.

That's very true, Father Tony. And let me be one of those who say I definitely have less money now that I did before Mitch took office. Our property taxes have gone up, my sales tax is higher than the rest of the state so the Colts can have a new stadium (Couldn't they buy their own? They have a lot more money than I do!), and my income tax has also gone up.

In fact, the COIT (County Option Income Tax) and property taxes are what led to the defeat of Scott Keller, the City-County Councilor whose campaign I ran.

While I don't think MItch is going to turn hard right to win the election, I've seen stranger things happen with Republicans. He's going to need all the votes he can possibly get.

D. Franklin Estes | May 15, 2011 5:09 AM

Uh Mitch Daniels can't run for re election. Indiana has term limits on the governor's office. You can only serve 2 four year terms.Man I wish people would get their facts straight. [No pun intended]