INDIANAPOLIS – Super majorities have consequences.

If there is any lesson to be drawn from the headline news item of the 2019 General Assembly session – the hate crimes legislation without a specific list of the potentially afflicted, which reached Senate concurrence Tuesday and is headed to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk – it’s that. 

The pipsqueak Democratic minorities protest with the voices of mice and the super majority Republicans just grin and do what they want, often in caucus, away from public view.

There is no presumptive Democratic gubernatorial standard-bearer in the wings who should be the focal and vocal point of resistance. And the true rising star of the Rooster Party, the openly gay South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is too busy running for president.

In February, when Mayor Pete conducted a book reading at IUPUI, there seemed to be a strange bedfellows alignment between Buttigieg and Gov. Holcomb on SB12, which had just cleared the Senate without a list. Holcomb declared it “unacceptable” and said there was plenty of time to forge a list. “I will continue to fight for the right ultimate outcome for our state and citizens this year so we’re not right back here in the same place next year,” Holcomb said. 

HPI commented at the time: It is unclear how Holcomb will use his considerable popularity to bring his recalcitrant GOP into line.

Now we know.

Buttigieg called this first Senate version a “crushing disappointment” and urged the overflow crowd to “summon courage” and make their voices heard, saying, “We have to have the protections. We have to have the civil rights protections. We have them in South Bend and we have to have them statewide.” But the Democrat seemingly with the most political momentum in America has not weighed in again on SB12, nor did many of his followers. It was rhetoric sans action. Like Vice President Pence, Mayor Pete has gone nationwide. Indiana is in his rearview mirror. 

Washington Examiner reporter Philip Wegmann recently called HPI about Buttigieg’s resistance to Gov. Mike Pence’s signing and subsequent rescinding of the RFRA law in 2015 and I did a scan of our April 2015 editions which covered the controversy extensively. Mayor Buttigieg was conspicuous in his relative silence. To be fair, perhaps that’s because it was the Indiana Chamber, Bill Oesterle, the NCAA and other economic Republicans who had raised the alarms, and Mayor Pete decided to let the GOP-aligned groups handle the self-inflicted fiasco. (It might also be a factor that the South Bend mayor was not yet “out” about his own sexual orientation at the time.)

Super majorities obscure other important things, like the influence of the Intolerance Wing of the Republican Party which, in the concealment provided by internal caucus debate, resisted what dozens of other states have done with hate crime laws, which is to explicitly list the afflicted classes. They carried the day; the “family advocacy” groups still wield outsized influence within the GOP. Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray acquiesced in the name of internal order and fear of primary politics. Courage could be saved for another day.

And Gov. Holcomb? 

He promised to be a vocal proponent of a hate crime law with a list. But after his return from Europe, he passed on using several Indiana Lincoln Day dinners to pressure recalcitrant members of his party. Nor did he barnstorm the state drumming up what we’ve come to know from another governor as the “white-hot heat of public opinion.” At the Bartholomew County Lincoln Dinner Saturday, Holcomb didn’t speak about the issue as Sen. Greg Walker and Sen. Ryan Lauer looked on. But he told the Columbus Republic, “I believe that covers it all. No one is left out.” 

With the Senate concurring on a 34-14 vote Tuesday, Holcomb insisted the compromise will protect every Hoosier. “Those targeted for crimes because of color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation are protected,” Holcomb said.

But State Sen. Ron Alting, who sponsored the original SB12 and ended up voting against SB198, said on the Senate floor, “I say to everybody, it’s got to be everyone in it or I cannot support.” He added that the final verdict will come from the courts, judges and prosecutors. “Time will tell,” Alting said. “We won’t know for awhile.”

This is not Holcomb’s finest hour. His messaging on hate crimes has been, and remains, mixed and conflicted. On the eve of Senate concurrence, the governor explained, “The No. 1 priority for me is to make sure that when we adjourn from this legislative session, that all 6.6 million-plus Hoosiers are protected, and from what I’ve seen (this version) would do it.” But, he added that he will continue push for gender and gender identity in an explicit list. “I don’t want to go back, I want to go forward,” Holcomb said Monday. “And this will be a tremendous step in the right direction.”

So which is it, governor?

If everyone is covered under the House-passed version of SB 198, why continue to push for a list? In Hoosier parlance, that’s having it both ways. Holcomb is demonstrating an inability to lead his party on a high-profile issue.

But a super majority can do that to a governor. Out there in what I’ll call “89% country” (where 89% of county commissioners are Republican), there might be general acceptance of a hate crime law that could help after churches in Jasper County and a synagogue in Hamilton County have been defiled. But we haven’t seen leadership from legislative Republicans for an explicit list.

Why? Because super majorities don’t feel the political heat. They can do what they do because, as we often say about contortionist hounds, they can. Fearless of meaningful challenges from defanged Democrats, yet fearful of 2020 primary challenges organized by the state’s active religious right, the GOP super-majorities caterwaul in caucus, but are guarded in public, paralyzed from taking meaningful action to erase a stigma from our state.

The South Bend Tribune editorialized on Sunday, “Last summer, in the wake of anti-Semitic graffiti painted at a Carmel synagogue, Gov. Eric Holcomb committed to “get something done” in the next legislative session “so that Indiana can be one of 46 states with hate crimes legislation — and not one of five states without it.” But the Tribune deduced: “Indiana’s governor has said all the right things about ending Indiana’s failure to pass a bias crimes law. But last week, he showed he was strong on talk, weak on action.” 

While that is a Democrat-leaning newspaper in the heart of Buttigieg country, there weren’t many other such observations beyond Mary Beth Schneider and the Statehouse File.

From a practical and legal standpoint, should Johnny Chitwood Himmler spray paint “Heil Hitler” on a synagogue or defile a home with a rainbow flag on the porch and a car with an equality sticker in the driveway, judges have the ability today to sentence while considering the aggravating circumstances at hand. 

Speaker Bosma believed that to be the case before this session ever began, before Holcomb decided to prioritize a hate crime law at the behest of his IEDC wing in the wake of the Carmel synagogue assault. Many in his caucus and among Senate Republicans are just fine with the status quo.

In the eyes of Gov. Holcomb and his commerce officials, as well as supportive business groups, this was (and is) about fostering a promising business environment. In the eyes of many in the super majority, SB12 and now SB198 were (and are) about semantics ... about political correctness. And still to others, about “special protections” for classes of people they’d rather not think about and really aren’t interested in protecting.

Until Indiana Democrats can muster a credible standard-bearer and spokesperson, and actually elect candidates across Mike Pence’s amber waves of grain, this dynamic will not change. 

Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana.