Governor Pence And The Backward K

Henry Chadwick, an English born historian and creator of baseball’s box score, used the letter “K” to denote a strikeout in the scorebook because it was the last letter in “struck” as in “struck out.”  He often used the last letter in a word because it was often more memorable, and more than 100 years later, a “K” means strikeout in America’s past time.

For hitters, there is only one thing worse than a swing and a miss at strike three and that is when strike three is called by the umpire without swinging at all. This disaster is known as being “struck out looking,” and it is noted in the scorebook as a backward K. In youth baseball especially, this is the worst thing that a hitter can do. It’s embarrassing.

As it should be. If you have to go down, go down swinging, right?

Civil rights expansion in Indiana went down on Tuesday. And it went down on a backward K.

So who was at the plate?

Governor Mike Pence was the batter on this one. He stood alone at the plate and this is why. The political challenge was of his creation. The negative consequences that come from the historic inaction on the legislature’s third floor of the Indiana Statehouse, will fall heavily downstairs to the second floor. That’s where the Governor has been hiding in his office from all of this since last Spring.

A governor that wanted this regretful chapter in our history closed would have gone upstairs and rallied his Republican partners and gotten a deal done. This is the fifth governor I have known, and trust me, when governors engage the legislature on things like this, deals get done.

All he had to do was swing the bat.

The truth is he didn’t want to swing. And he has been looking at pitches since House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long decided to “fix” RFRA, the Pence debacle and national firestorm from last session.

In the last year, Governor Pence has spoken almost none on the issue, except that he is listening to people. This includes the classic nonevent that was his State of the State speech last month, where he declared religious liberty was his priority. I am still desperately looking for that mysterious threat to said liberty in America.  In my neighborhood, the only thing more plentiful than “Fire Mike Pence” yard signs are the number of active and varied churches.  I must live in an awesomely ironic melting pot.

Senator Long may have had his finest hour these last two weeks. First, he conducted a respectful and orderly hearing on the matter under uniquely tense circumstances.  The hearing featured an evenly distributed three hours of testimony from the public and ninety minutes of committee discussion for all to see and hear. And while I am no fan of bills dying behind closed doors in caucus, he was as open and honest about the situation as possible. More importantly, he was realistic about the likelihood of the expansion’s passage in the future,  aptly describing it as “inevitable.”

Speaker Bosma hasn’t even had his chance at bat, and the death of Senate Bill 344 symbolizes the end of the inning.  He apparently won’t be getting that chance this year and that seems to be just fine with him.

And so the first half of the civil rights session ended Wednesday.  There will be no expanded rights passed this year, though more admit that its passage is only a matter of time than ever did before.  It is also doubtful that the legislature will suffer much as a result of the inaction.  And in this case, it is easy to understand why.

Governor Pence did not lead on the issue.  Period.  He owns the divisiveness.  He owns the lack of direction.  And for those on the evangelical side of the debate who are celebrating, the governor didn’t stand strong for them either.  He passively let them temporarily win.  And all that was won by the zealots this week was one battle in a war that is simply not winnable over time.

Face it Indiana, Governor Pence took strike three.  His bat is still firmly planted on his shoulder.  It is what every baseball or softball parent teaches a child not to do.

So thank you Henry Chadwick for giving us the backward K.  American politics needed a new way to describe an innovative way to fail.