Listening to Hoosiers


Imagine if Indiana legislators’ priorities matched those of Hoosiers.

The results of the 2015 session of the General Assembly would be eye-popping.

The folks at Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs — named in honor of the late Gov. Otis “Doc” Bowen — conducted the seventh-annual Hoosier Survey this fall, talking with a demographically broad cross-section of 600 residents. Some spoke by landlines, others by cellphones. “This is a snapshot of all adults 18 and older,” explained Joe Losco, co-director of the Bowen Center and chairman of Ball State’s political science department.

Despite differing views, Hoosiers agree on some primary objectives they want their legislators to tackle when the session begins in 23 days.

The top four priorities of Average Joes and Janes are creating jobs, reducing crime, improving local schools and protecting the environment, the survey found. Also, 82 percent of Hoosiers support fully funded prekindergarten programs for all Indiana kids, an expansion well beyond the small pilot program initiated last year by Gov. Mike Pence.

Sixty-eight percent back increased funding to provide free textbooks to public school kids. Sixty-six percent, including a majority of Republicans and Democrats, favor stronger laws regulating ethics of public officials. Fifty-seven percent think supermarkets and convenience stores should be allowed to sell cold beer.

How many of those goals rank high on your legislator’s checklist?

The support for early childhood education is strong, with 82 percent backing fully funded schooling for Hoosier 4-year-olds. When asked if lawmakers should feel compelled to respond to that support, Losco said, “Yes, they should. That’s a huge number, and it’s spread across the parties.”

The governor, as most Hoosiers know, abruptly pulled Indiana out of the running for a potential $80 million federal preschool development grant in October, saying, “Indiana must develop our own pre-K program for disadvantaged children without federal intrusion.”

The move placated the far-right faction around the country, which could play a role in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries if Pence runs. Still, back home in Indiana, an overwhelming segment of Hoosiers place a high priority on getting youngsters statewide into school earlier. It’ll be interesting to see if Indiana House and Senate members answer that desire.

Education affects all of Hoosiers’ top priorities — job creation, crime reduction, school upgrades and protection of the environment.

Better educated people get better incomes and job opportunities, participate in their communities and commit fewer crimes, pay taxes that support strong public schools, and seek a good quality of life for their family that includes breathing clean air and drinking clean water. Migration patterns show Americans tend to relocate in states with those qualities.

The survey figures showing job creation as the No. 1 concern — cited by 78 percent of people responding — might seem peculiar. Indiana touts its 5.8 unemployment rate, which falls below the 6.1 national rate, and its growing, low-tax, business-friendly economy.

The answer, again, is stronger commitment to education, so more Hoosiers get vocational training, trade union apprenticeships and college degrees without absorbing mortgage-sized student debts.

Protecting the environment, No. 4 on the list, requires elected officials willing to actively address pollution, rather than ignoring or diminishing it. Safeguarding air and water isn’t an extreme goal.

A balance — a true balance, not tipping one way — seems to be what Hoosiers favor. The survey asked about regulations proposed by President Obama, and opposed by Governor Pence, on greenhouse emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Politicians often knock the Hoosier Survey. “Sometimes those in office will complain that these (people responding) aren’t (necessarily) voters, and that’s true,” Losco said. “This is reflective of all Hoosier adults.” Everyone eligible should vote. Still, if Indiana legislators only concern themselves with the needs of voting Hoosiers, they’d be overlooking 70 percent of the adult population, who pay taxes through sales, property and incomes.

And when that cross-section of average people share similar priorities, their elected officials should respect those.

Mark Bennett is a writer for the (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. Send comments to [email protected].

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