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EDITORIAL

Restraint, yes, but no moratorium on the social issues

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 12:01 am

Why should the GOP give up on everything it stands for?

How the new session of the Indiana General Assembly will be judged depends as much on form as on substance: How will majority Republicans behave?

They have absolute power, controlling the governor’s office and enjoying supermajorities in both House and Senate. Will they abuse that power by doing anything they want to just because they can? Or will they exhibit some graciousness and stay focused on the issues that matter most to Hoosiers? If they do too much, they will look arrogant and risk losing their majorities or at least see them diminish. If they do too little, they are wasting the kind of opportunity that rarely comes along.

Democrats obviously recognize this dilemma. New House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, urged the GOP to “avoid divisive social issues” like gay marriage and abortion.

That’s probably asking too much, especially if they mean a blanket moratorium. “Divisive social issues” is sort of a code for “pushing values conservatives like and liberals are suspicious of.” If conservatives win overwhelmingly with voters, how can they be asked to set aside everything they believe in? And don’t the lopsided margins mean most voters agree with them?

Certainly, legislators should be urged to exercise caution and common sense when exploring social issues, or any other kind, for that matter. For example, the Supreme Court has decided to review the constitutionality of gay marriage bans, so it’s not unreasonable to hold off a vote on such a ban here until the court speaks. And the efforts to get religion into public school are so obviously unconstitutional that pursuing them is just plain boneheaded.

And the GOP also has a duty to stay focused on the top priorities. It was a good sign in the opening meeting when House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, announced that training people for new, advanced manufacturing jobs will take precedence over the next four months. For one thing, as the state comes off a weak economy, few things are as important as workplace development. For another, incoming Gov. Mike Pence made improvements to vocational education a centerpiece of his campaign.

But a total moratorium on social issues? Bosma was polite enough to merely say it “has not been my custom” to make “those types of decisions” for the members. Pelath said Republicans should show “enlightened restraint” on such issues. That’s not bad advice on any piece of legislation. Let them keep it in mind when the two-year state budget comes up for discussion.