Many years ago, a legislator told me it was “country bankers” who killed Indiana banking. They and their lawmakers carried the day in the 1970s and 1980s with regulations against buying banks across county lines. The big Indianapolis banks were thus held in check.
After a while, banks from Ohio in particular, which had deregulated earlier, moved in, and in a heartbeat all the big Indiana banks were gone.
To refresh my memory, I called retired state Sen. Morris Mills, R-Indianapolis, who chaired the Indiana Senate finance committee for many years. He still sees the matter as a great mistake for Indiana.
Mills spent more than a decade pushing a bill to allow banks the right to cross county lines and buy other banks.
“By the time we passed it 13 years later, those guys had all merged,” Mills said, “and they were ready to move into Indiana and had the muscle to do it. The Indiana banks weren’t big enough to compete.”
Game over for Indiana banking.
“They didn’t comprehend the bigger picture, back then,” Mills said.
Getting to the point of my refresher phone call, I asked Sen. Mills about the anti-gay amendment that’s in the news today. Isn’t this more of the same, another example of a stick-it-to-Indianapolis mentality? After all, an anti-gay amendment may be no big deal in areas that don’t have big companies or a convention business. In Indy, however, we compete with the world.
Mills said he is no fan of gay marriage. But he sees the Indiana Constitution as “sacrosanct.”
And then there’s just the sweep of history.
“At the present time,” Mills said, diplomatically, “I don’t think they comprehend what’s going on in the rest of the world.”
Another example of anti-Indianapolis sentiment: the concerted effort by legislators from outlying areas for many years to keep our city from having a major state university.
“You had groups that grew around Lafayette and Bloomington,” Mills said, “that didn’t want to see their position diminished at all and killed whatever anybody attempted.
“Of course, now what’s happened is IUPUI has grown into what Larry was trying to do,” he added, chuckling, referring to his longtime colleague, Sen. Lawrence Borst, R-Indianapolis, who championed a great University of Indianapolis.
That name, however, was snapped up by then. So our major state university in Indianapolis is called ... “Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis.”
The list goes on. Indiana legislators allowed casino gambling—but only in outposts as far from Indianapolis as you can get and still be in the state. A casino in Indianapolis? No, not for Indianapolis.
I should add that Mills, a gentleman, didn’t say anybody was “country” when we spoke the other day. That was me, resurrecting the term to describe a Statehouse sentiment that condemned Indiana’s largest banks to out-of-state acquisition.
But the point remains: What a huge, avoidable mistake those legislators made. Their misjudgment led to the disappearance of an Indianapolis industry that could still today be thriving and benefiting the entire state.
Anti-urban thinking is nothing new in Indiana, of course.
“Indianapolis has always been a rallying cry for someone running on the outside,” Mills said. “That’s the way you do it; you yell about Indianapolis and you build up your candidate.”
Our Statehouse is once again afflicted with this syndrome—legislators on the wrong side of history, to the particular detriment of Indianapolis.•
Sullivan is president of Monomedia, a Web design and photography company. He formerly was a reporter for The Indianapolis News and columnist with Universal Press Syndicate. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.