It is sad to see what today’s political power does to good people. And it is heartbreaking when it happens to someone as nice as my state representative, a Christian man and a compassionate professional.
I have been told on more than one occasion how this man personally helped families deal with tragedy. But being elected a state legislator and proceeding into the statehouse is like walking into a swamp.
Corporate lobbyists are constantly on the prowl to influence lawmakers, to pass a certain bill that will give a government-granted advantage to their company, which will give it a government-granted rise in profits. And those lobbyists have unbelievable amounts of money at their disposal.
Nonetheless, this particular legislator made the following promise to us: “I pledge to the taxpayers of the State of Indiana that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
That pledge is about to be tested. A vote on the Republican-proposed gas-tax will not be an easy decision. On my representative’s right shoulder rests his tax pledge, his angel. On his left rests the lobbyist money, his devil.
Over the past four years this lawmaker’s re-election campaign received more money from the “Build Indiana” political action committee than any other donor.
Build Indiana PAC is funded by the road construction industry, companies like Milestone Contractors, Rieth-Riley Construction Co. and Irving Materials, all interested in the $1.2 billion in additional road construction contracts that would result from the gas-tax increase.
Lobbyists seeking to buy influence know who has influence. And this lawmaker is chairman of one of the most influential committees. And the citizens of my district cannot compete with the kind of money that lobbyists give our legislator.
From 2013-2016, his campaign received $476,308, but out of that only $5,075 came from donors inside the district. In other words, only 1 percent of his campaign contributions came from those he represents.
With enough campaign cash, this and other incumbent legislators know they can drown out any challenger’s voice. They can buy so many postcards, radio ads, newspaper ads, yard signs, even television ads that the voters will hardly notice the other guy.
And if by some chance a challenger becomes popular anyway, the standard political playbook would be a smear campaign to tarnish the opponent’s reputation. Money controls the message the voters hear. Besides, by the 2018 election the voters might forget about the tax increase altogether.
So, honor his pledge or keep the re-election campaign dollars coming? Honor his pledge or preserve his political power? My representative has a big choice to make.
John Pickerill, past chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, wrote this for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. He is a graduate of Purdue University and the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program and retired from the U.S. Navy as a commander. Send comments to [email protected].