Sheila Kennedy: Holcomb, Rokita and the radicalization of the GOP

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I haven’t agreed with every position Gov. Eric Holcomb has taken, but overall, he has reminded me of the Republican Party to which I used to belong—a time when serious people concerned themselves with issues of governance rather than initiating constant battles in America’s culture wars.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is a perfect example of the culture warriors who dominate today’s GOP, so I was startled when he joined members of the General Assembly in defending residents’ right to control their own bodies, a position admirably articulated by Martinsville Rep. Peggy Mayfield:

“Hoosiers should have the right to make health care decisions that best suit their families, their personal medical circumstances, and a broad interpretation of their religious beliefs—a concept that we’re disappointed to see Indiana University has rejected.”

The genesis of this remarkable turnaround—not just by our desperate-for-attention AG, but from a number of firmly anti-choice legislators—was Indiana University’s decision to require students and employees to be vaccinated in order to return to in-person instruction. In an opinion that most lawyers—and several members of the General Assembly—described as “a reach,” Rokita is claiming that a bill passed during the last legislative session prohibits the university from doing so.

I will leave the legal arguments to practicing lawyers, but I can’t restrain myself from pointing to the unbelievable hypocrisy displayed by Rokita’s sudden support for the “fundamental liberties” protected by the Bill of Rights.

The statement that Hoosiers should have the right to make health care decisions that best suit their families and religious beliefs is, without a doubt, correct. It is precisely the point of the pro-choice position, which I will note is not a “pro-abortion” position. The issue is not what decision is made—it is who has the authority to make it.

What is particularly ludicrous about this sudden concern for an individual’s right to control of his or her own body—coming as it does from rabidly “pro-life” folks—is that it is so inconsistent with their willingness to trample those same constitutional protections in order to appeal to constituencies displaying absolutely no regard for the protection of personal autonomy.

Ironically, Indiana University’s decision to require vaccinations is self-evidently a “pro-life” decision. The university is following the science and acting to protect the life and health of the entire university community. (Of course, the people they are protecting have already been born, which evidently makes a difference.) And as a friend recently noted, IU’s action protects the lives of multiple individuals who are not similarly endangered by a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy.

Republicans in Indiana’s Legislature—dominated as that body is by rural interests, thanks to gerrymandering—have stridently opposed Holcomb’s efforts to minimize the dangers of the pandemic. They have moved to erode the governor’s power to act swiftly to mitigate future threats to Hoosier health and safety, all in the name of a “freedom” they are manifestly unwilling to extend to people who use that freedom in ways with which they disagree.

Our ambitious attorney general has cast his lot with those Republicans, who—it must be admitted—are representative of what the Grand Old Party has become. Rick Wilson—one of the Lincoln Group of prominent ex-Republicans—recently opined that today’s GOP is no longer the party of Lincoln; it is now the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The grandstanders, culture warriors and conspiracy theorists are waging war on Holcomb and other remnants of the old GOP.•


Kennedy recently retired as professor of law and public policy at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI.

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One thought on “Sheila Kennedy: Holcomb, Rokita and the radicalization of the GOP

  1. It is time for an amendment to remove the AG as a constitutional elected position. Just like the US AG, the position should be a gubernatorial appointment so that the official legal stances of the State of Indiana are consistent throughout the term of any governor.