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Monday, April 06, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - A few of the stories on the impact of the RFRA controversy

"Wesco's proud image: Photo caught triumph before outcry over law" is the headline to a lengthy Sunday story by Jeff Parrott of the South Bend Tribune. Some quotes:

Osceola Republican state Rep. Timothy Wesco is smiling broadly in the photo, standing to the right of Gov. Mike Pence and flanked by nuns, brothers, priests and evangelical Christian lobbyists.

In a private ceremony, Pence was signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Wesco, lead House sponsor of the bill, quickly posted the image from Pence's Twitter account to his Facebook page. That was 5:42 p.m. Thursday, March 26.

Earlier that day, Advance America, the fundamentalist Christian advocacy group headed by Eric Miller, who was also invited to the bill signing, had issued a press release headlined, "Victory at the Statehouse!"

But dark storm clouds were swirling. * * *

Wesco suddenly found himself at the center of a national and international firestorm, as business and government leaders at home and abroad threatened to boycott Indiana, saying the law would give businesses the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

In an interview with The Tribune this past week, Wesco said the bill was never intended to allow for such discrimination, and he was shocked by the world's reaction.

"The level of national blowback was far beyond anything I anticipated," Wesco said. "It was hijacked by a broader cultural battle that it doesn't necessarily apply to."

Longtime General Assembly watcher Brian Howey, editor and publisher of the Howey Political Report, said the Pence signing photo was especially incendiary.

"It had to be one of the proudest moments of his life being at that signing ceremony with Pence," Howey said of Wesco, "but the optics of that kind of alarmed people. Our forefathers went out of their way to establish a separation of church and state. That's tough for social conservatives to reconcile."

But no one should have been surprised to see Wesco leading this charge, noted Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend.

"I know he's never shied away from these issues in the past," Dvorak said. "They've come up in his campaigns, and he's been elected. The voters in his district seem to be OK with that." * * *

Standing next to Wesco in the Pence signing photo were anti-gay marriage activists Eric Miller and Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.

Wesco has long shared their beliefs. In a 2007 letter to the editor published in The Tribune, he called homosexuality an "unnatural choice."

"Thankfully, choices can be reversed," Wesco wrote then. "There is hope for those trapped in this unnatural lifestyle."

This lengthy weekend story by Jessie Higgins in the Louisville Courier Journal, headlined "RFRA possibly `fixed', but now the damage is done," begins with the obvious:
INDIANAPOLIS - In the eyes of the nation, Indiana fell on the wrong side of history.
And continues:
Nearly two weeks of national media coverage and commentary on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act left countless Americans believing it’s legal to discriminate against gay and lesbian people in Indiana.

The nation’s response was staggering. A movement to boycott Indiana sprung up almost overnight; Individuals, businesses, sports teams, municipal and state governments all pledged they would avoid traveling to or investing in Indiana.

“When you’re splashed across the national media with discrimination and absolute junk, I don’t think it does your state a service,” Arizona resident Joe Lunne said when randomly contacted by the Courier & Press. “I certainly won’t visit (Indiana). And, I know, if little old Joe down in Arizona isn’t going to visit that’s not going to have any effect. But when NASCAR is saying stuff like that, and the NCAA, that is going to have a tremendous impact.” * * *

“Before this, we would have identified Indiana with basketball,” said D’Ann Bishop, a Texan who used to work for the Democratic Party in Oregon. “I don’t know much about Indiana. It’s not like I had any plans to go to Indiana. In general, though, I would not choose to spend money in a state that actively supported discrimination. One of the greatest powers we have in our democracy is the power of our own dollar. We should express that power.”

Even Gov. Mike Pence acknowledged Indiana’s “perception problem” last week. Days later, he signed an amendment “clarifying” that the law can’t be used to discriminate or deny services to anyone.

But will it be enough to undo the damage to Indiana’s reputation? Or will the country forever associate Indiana — and Hoosiers — with intolerance and discrimination?

From Lauryn Schroeder, Associated Press, here in the NWI Times:
INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana tourism agencies are rolling out campaigns emphasizing that everyone is welcome, but it might not be enough to quickly restore the state's battered image after a backlash over its religious objections law.

An uproar sparked by fears that the law would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians led a few convention organizers and performers to cancel events and some state and local governments to ban travel to the state last week. Revisions to the law's language have eased some of the criticism, but experts say the state could be dealing with a damaged reputation for years to come.

In a sign that Indiana is still under close scrutiny, hundreds of gay rights supporters marched to the site of the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis on Saturday as college basketball fans were arriving for the games. The marches called for the state to go further and enshrine in its civil rights law protection for gays and lesbians.

Chris Gahl, vice president of Visit Indy, the lead promoter for Indianapolis, said he has been in "full crisis mode" since the furor erupted after Gov. Mike Pence signed the law late last month. * * *

The crisis isn't confined to Indianapolis. Fort Wayne, the state's second-largest city, has had six national conventions express concerns about continuing business in Indiana. If all six pulled out, it would represent about $1.2 million in revenue, said Dan O'Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne.

Businesses say they've been inundated with emails from people asking for reassurance that they are welcome in Indiana, or canceling orders or plans. The famed French Lick Resort, a hotel in an historic town in southern Indiana, issued a statement Friday saying it has "always been open and inclusive" and that the new law won't change that.

Traci Bratton, owner of the Hoosier Candle Company in Dayton, about 50 miles northwest of Indianapolis, said she's received emails from out-of-state customers who like her products but say they won't be bringing their business to Indiana because of the law.

"Hoosier Hospitality has been thrown out the window," Bratton said.

But the impact is being most keenly felt in Indianapolis, which has earned national praise for its transformation from a place once referred to as "Naptown" and "India-No-Place" to a vibrant, friendly city that used sports and a downtown renaissance to land a Super Bowl and become a popular pit stop in what was once called "flyover country." * * *

Even though lawmakers have revised the language of the religious objections law to make clear that it's not intended to discriminate, Indiana still lacks statewide civil-rights protections for the gay and lesbian community. And economic experts said perceptions about the law could prevent companies from attracting and retaining young talent.

Kyle Anderson, a business economics professor at Indiana University said Indiana already had a hard time competing on a national level to bring in top talent. For young professionals who tend to be more progressive about social issues, the law could be another reason for them to avoid jobs within the state.

"The last week will perpetuate the notion that it's not a great place to live," he said. "And I think that will live on for quite a while, unfortunately."

Doug Ross, NWI Times columnist, began his Sunday column:
At a time when Indiana should have been putting its best foot forward, the state’s political leaders were wearing clown shoes.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act didn’t bring brimstone, but it sure lit a firestorm that has consumed Indiana. Gov. Mike Pence, as the state’s chief executive, felt most of that fallout, but the legislation was rammed through the Indiana General Assembly before it even got to him. House Speaker Brian Bosma, of Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, of Fort Wayne, fed the legislative chute rather than pausing to consider the potential backlash.

And oh, what a backlash! When I visited Fort Wayne last weekend, I couldn’t escape it. Downtown, where I was photographing the architecture, I saw protestors lining more than two blocks of a main street to voice their opposition to the new law.

My own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) decided last week to move its 2017 convention from Indiana, and other groups pulled business in the state. Indiana’s reputation was built over decades. In just a week, it has become pitted, not just tarnished, and it will take a long time to burnish it.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 6, 2015 09:22 AM
Posted to Indiana Government