The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, January 24, 2021 1:00 am

Political notebook

Statehouse closure a rarity

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

For decades, people have descended on the Statehouse and the building never closed – until last week.

Almost 20,000 teachers rallied in 2019, and Organization Day went on.

Workers in the thousands have protested labor legislation several times over the years and the session went on, albeit with legislative leaders getting personal protection during the right-to-work debate.

Dueling gay marriage rallies; protests against unlawful police entry; barbers and hair stylists – you name it, and the Statehouse has seen it.

That's why news that the building would be closed to the public Tuesday and Wednesday, and that the legislature canceled all activities for the week, came as a surprise.

“Abundance of caution” was what state officials said, even though they confirmed there were no credible threats in Indiana. The psyche of the nation was still fragile following a violent protest at the U.S. Capitol.

In the end, not a single protester showed up at the Statehouse, much less a violent uprising.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter “made very clear it was his recommendation that we not come ... and when someone with his expertise makes that suggestion I'm going to take it seriously, and we did. You have to look out for employees, the public, the members and everyone else in that building. People should be able to come into the building and testify on bills in a safe environment.”

Carter said Thursday he knew some things he can't talk about, and he can't predict human behavior. After the Capitol siege and divisive transition of power, he recommended closure. 

Bray said he understands “why people may raise their eyebrows now that we haven't seen violence materialize ... but you have to take everything in context. Just two weeks ago we saw something horrific unfold in Washington, D.C. This decision was made with the benefit of that experience.”

But he promised the legislature will not shut down just because opponents to a bill make threats of a violent protest.

“Ultimately, it will be up to us to come in and get our work done. Protests are not foreign to the Statehouse, there have been tens of thousands of people in that building saying yes or no to an idea. That's when that building is at its liveliest and at its most productive, and it will be that way again,” Bray said. “We aren't going to shy away from those conversations.”

McCormick joins board

Jennifer McCormick, who recently completed her four-year term as Indiana superintendent of public instruction, has joined the volunteer board of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.

“We are delighted Dr. McCormick has accepted our invitation,” said Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, president of the group. “She has been a tremendous advocate for children and for Indiana's public schools. Dr. McCormick has been a frequent presenter at our meetings and rallies and at public education town hall meetings across the state.”

McCormick joins two other former Indiana superintendents of public instruction on the coalition's board – Glenda Ritz, who served from 2013 through 2016, and Suellen Reed Goddard, who served four terms from 1993 to 2009.

The coalition is a bipartisan organization that advocates for high quality, equitable, well-funded public schools for all children.

No holding back

Indiana House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta didn't mince words Tuesday night when he addressed why the State of the State speech and reaction was virtual instead of in person.

The event was already going to be smaller due to COVID-19 but was moved to a pre-taped speech out of caution for election protests.

GiaQuinta blamed former President Donald Trump for “provoking and feeding lies to a mob” that did great damage to the U.S. Capitol and caused threats around the country.

Braun visits Guard

Indiana Sen. Mike Braun spent time Thursday visiting with members of the Indiana National Guard stationed at the U.S. Capitol following the deadly Jan. 6 riot. 

“I spent the morning having a great conversation and fielding many questions with the Indiana National Guard,” Braun said in a statement. “I am grateful for their service protecting the Capitol and Washington, D.C., this week and thankful to them and their families for the sacrifices they have made for our nation.”

National Guard units have been stationed on Capitol Hill ever since the riot, which caused members of Congress to be evacuated and left several people dead. 

Dave Gong of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. Political Notebook can be found at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.


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