Revisiting Mitch Daniels' "Truce" on Social Issues


There’s a myth in Indianapolis Republican circles that goes something like this: back in the good old days, the Indiana GOP was made up of high minded, moderate statesmen from metro Indianapolis like Richard Lugar and Bill Hudnut. Then a bunch of troglodytes from rural Indiana like Mike Pence took over and wrecked the party and the state with extreme social conservative policies that are bad for business.

Reality is very different. Since Republicans retook power in the state in 2005, Indiana has largely been run by Republicans from metro Indianapolis who have operated according to a philosophy Mitch Daniels called “the truce,” or the avoidance of social issues in favor of fiscal and economic development matters.

In terms of actual legislation enacted, Indiana is actually one of the least socially conservative red states. But the economic results have been underwhelming to poor for the state and its people. The Indianapolis GOP elites and their truce both effectively disenfranchised and impoverished the state’s Republican voters, while the left, which never agreed to any part of a truce, made significant advances on its own social policy agenda in the state.

From the standpoint of the average Republican voter, the truce was a thus a double failure. There’s no reason to believe abandoning cultural issues in favor of economics will work anywhere.

The Indiana GOP’s Record on Social Conservatism

Daniels’ truce idea got big press back in 2010 and 2011 as he was exploring a bid for President. Though I don’t recall him using the term with regards to how he governed Indiana, this is basically how he operated for eight years. We see this in his own top 100 accomplishments list that’s still on the state web site. Not one of them is a social conservative item. I’ve never once heard him speak of a social conservative policy with regards to his tenure as governor since leaving office. A new Indianapolis Monthly article on the state’s GOP candidly says that the social conservatives were “boxed out” during his eight year tenure.

There were a few social conservative moves during the Daniels admin, but they were pretty small ball, and temporary as well. The state denied, then reversed the denial of a special license plate for a gay organization in Indy. (The state has numerous special fundraising plates like this). The state also tried to defund Planned Parenthood, a law that was overturned in federal court.

Most notably, at that time 29 states were passing constitutional amendments prohibiting gay marriage. Daniels and the GOP killed one in Indiana procedurally in a state senate committee. Indiana, one of the reddest states in the country, thus was among a minority of states that never passed a constitutional gay marriage ban.

Mike Pence looms large in the myth, but was only in office for four of the 17+ consecutive years the state the GOP has controlled the governors office. Pence is known almost entirely for the controversy over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This legislation unexpectedly caught the ire of corporations, who threatened to boycott the state if it wasn’t repealed. Indiana quickly capitulated. There was nothing special about this law. It was based on a federal law of the same name signed by Bill Clinton. Many states have RFRA laws on the books today, including Texas. Indiana’s number just came up. Pence also signed some anti-abortion legislation that was overturned in the courts, with the exception of rules requiring the burial or cremation of post-abortion remains.

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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker and writer on a mission to help America's cities and people thrive and find real success in the 21st century. He focuses on urban, economic development and infrastructure policy in the greater American Midwest. He also regularly contributes to and is cited by national and global media outlets, and his work has appeared in many publications, including the The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Photo: Anonymous Indianapolis Social Worker via Wikimedia under CC 4.0 License