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KENNEDY: Trashing ‘Hoosier hospitality’

April 2, 2016

Sheila Suess KennedyNathan Deal, the Republican governor of Georgia, has vetoed that state’s RFRA. Deal was quoted as saying, “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives.”

The governor explained that his veto was “about the character of our state and the character of our people. Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people. ... I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”

Several commentators noted that the governor wanted to avoid the damaging economic repercussions Indiana experienced in the wake of Gov. Mike Pence’s very different decision in Indiana.

Think about that. Georgia doesn’t want to be Indiana.

Of course, it isn’t only RFRA. This Legislature—and especially this governor—has undone years of effort to position Indianapolis and Indiana as welcoming, business-friendly venues: We offered “Hoosier hospitality” at “the crossroads of America.”

We garnered negative headlines for the governor’s refusal to allow a single family of Syrian refugees to resettle in our “hospitable” state.

And now, in the wake of Pence’s “prayerful” signing of the nation’s most punitive and restrictive abortion law, national coverage has again portrayed Indiana as anything but hospitable. The New York Times ran a relatively mild headline: “Indiana Governor Signs Abortion Bill With Added Restrictions,” but followed it with a scathing editorial.

Other headlines were less restrained. A banner in Salon.com laid it out: “Mike Pence’s sadistic abortion law: Indiana passes draconian anti-choice bill geared towards humiliating and bankrupting women who have abortions.” Slate noted that “Indiana’s HB 1337 is So Extreme Even Republicans Don’t Like It.” Other headlines referred to the bill as “chilling” and “most restrictive in the nation.”

These latest headlines add to the national impression that Indiana is the “buckle on the Bible-belt”—a state hostile both to LGBT individuals and women’s autonomy.

The business community has been arguing against these eruptions of ideological posturing for a very good reason: The message they send is terrible for business. It’s hard enough recruiting top-flight talent—the sort of employee who is in high demand—to a state with no mountains, no oceans, a middling-to-poor quality of life (poor public transportation, ill-maintained parks, struggling schools), without adding a reputation for homophobia and chauvinism.

I’ve lived in Indianapolis all my life. I’ve been involved, over the years, in a number of efforts to “sell” our city. I have fond memories of my time in the Hudnut administration, when Bill Hudnut—a mayor with a very different understanding of both Republicanism and Christianity than Gov. Pence’s—talked about building an inclusive and welcoming city on the hill. People in that administration, and several that followed it, worked tirelessly to garner good PR for Indianapolis.

We knew then that a positive image wouldn’t just generate convention business, important as that is for the city and state’s bottom line, but also encourage businesses to locate or expand here.

We wanted to encourage all kinds of people to join us in building our local economy, not just those who went to a particular church or subscribed to a particular version of Christianity.

We worked hard, and spent a lot of money promoting Hoosier hospitality. Then we elected a governor who seems determined to undo it all.•

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Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She can be reached at skennedy@ibj.com.

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