INDIANAPOLIS – The General Assembly needs a shrink. Or at least some new tools. How about some conflict resolution techniques? Could we vow that name calling is out and mutual accountability is in? Can we return to a time when the people’s business was conducted with the expectation of political compromise?

Barack Obama said: “A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like...a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, ‘Huh. It works. It makes sense.’”  

The opposite has been true over and over this session. As Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) famously said last week: “There just seems to be no balance anymore in this building.” 

At the end of a bloody session, the concept of restoring political trust offers a glimpse into an alternative style and substance of politics. Everyone, including the media, is focused on the products of the legislative process. But what about the process itself? What if it turns out tyranny is baked into the current approach? Then we need a new one. Indulge me with a few “what if’s.”

What if all affected parties had to support the legislation before a chair moved it out of committee? This way, all energy would be poured into resolution, not resistance. Brainstorming, not gamesmanship, would be fostered. And say goodbye to last minute sabotage.

What if a politician respected by both sides, perhaps even a governor, was called on to mediate and keep frustrated parties from walking away? What a glorious art form: Building constructive coalitions from would-be enemies.

What if the energy spent tossing political footballs as part of the daily media drama was minimized? What if both parties agreed to address the media together on contentious issues?

Such alternative strategies for resolving public conflicts might have helped avoid tragic brawls this session, like these:

A bill by Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) that would have required transparency in this fall’s redistricting process was shut down. “Why is it too much to ask that elected leaders be inclusive to constituents about something as important as redistricting?” Sen. Taylor demanded. “It’s shameful that Republicans in the Senate refused to even allow Hoosiers to be informed about when and where legislators are meeting to draw maps.”

Wetlands. Sen. Chris Garten (R-Scottsburg) originally proposed a wholesale elimination of wetlands. The Senate Enrolled Act sitting on Gov. Holcomb’s desk still leaves most wetlands in jeopardy, including ephemeral streams. Anyone with a passing interest in or respect for nature is seeing red.

Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) is playing shark with IndyGo’s financial standing. When Rep. Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie) let the original anti-IndyGo bill die in his House committee, Sen. Freeman took another stab by trying to saddle IndyGo with utility costs. Did he choose to speak directly with IndyGo about his concerns?

The now-dead HB1381 pitted towns and counties against the state on the placement of solar and wind projects. Frustrating as it must have been for both for clean energy advocates – and for lawmakers trying to assist companies poised to make big renewable energy investments in Indiana – to see the bill expire, the bill’s chances weren’t helped when Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) referred to the opposition as “schizophrenic.”

That’s no way to express respect for the other party’s interests. Messmer tried out a host of amendments, such as offering financial incentives for counties to accept the state’s standards. Indiana’s energy future seemed to hang in the balance. Did the bill’s authors ask the counties what would have made it possible or palatable to site renewable projects? Did the counties reply in good faith?

Aren’t lawmakers on both sides of the aisle tired of the knock-down, drag-out? Is anyone interested in the practice of mature statesmanship? Here are some examples of calmer heads prevailing this session:

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus partnered with House Republicans and state law enforcement agencies to pass HB1006, which mandates de-escalation training for police and defines chokeholds as deadly use of force.

All parties just agreed that a chunk of the sudden budget windfall will go to Indiana public schools.

Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray pulled the plug on the bill to abolish handgun permits.

Senate Democrats’ proposed budget increase for food banks was accepted.

Poll the people, and you’d likely find that voters want lawmakers to work together. And some remember an era when that’s what happened on any given day. Lest we forget that the very structure of our government can be traced to a compromise at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. When modestly populated Delaware wanted a Senate structure and heavily populated Virginia wanted a House structure, Connecticut delegates Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth said, “Why not both?”

Gerrymandering means that trust at the Statehouse is broken daily among the two parties, and even within the outsized GOP. Voters of all parties need to stop electing flame-fanning trust-breakers, and elect more creative, sage trust-builders. 

A consultant and grant writer, Laker is principal of Laker Verbal LLC.