BRIAN HOWEY: Marriage and unintended consequences

2014-01-12T00:00:00Z BRIAN HOWEY: Marriage and unintended consequencesBy Brian Howey nwitimes.com
January 12, 2014 12:00 am  • 

In 1988, with 20 years into the Republican gubernatorial dynasty, there stood the ideal candidate — Lt. Gov. John Mutz. He was of excellent pedigree, having served with distinction under two-term Gov. Robert Orr. He had been a successful state senator and a corporate executive.

But political dynasties come to an end, and when the votes were counted, Mutz had lost to a 31-year-old Democrat named Evan Bayh, the son of a U.S. senator.

There was a precursor to the end of this dynasty, and it occurred two years earlier when the powerful House Speaker J. Roberts Dailey was defeated for re-election. There were some of the usual barnacles and chinks a speaker picks up, even in his own district. But there was something below the surfaced that had changed. Dailey was an ardent opponent of gambling, and there had been a growing appetite in Indiana for a state lottery, which the state Constitution prohibited.

Finally, upon Dailey’s defeat and after more than a decade of the issue festering in the Indiana General Assembly, it passed two successive legislatures and was placed on the ballot.

And despite widespread opposition from the Republican establishment over those years, it passed with 62 percent of the vote. A landslide.

The lottery wasn't the lone factor in Mutz's loss to Bayh. Dynasties run their course, sometimes at the hands of a fresh face. But it did add a new dimension into that election, and brought out an array of single-issue voters more aligned with Bayh and Democrats.

I conjure this history from a file bearing this title: "Unintended consequences."

Former Fortune Magazine economics editor Rob Norton gives a fascinating historical review. The most recent example was the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in 1989. In its messy wake, many American coastal states enacted laws placing unlimited liability on tanker companies. Royal Dutch/Shell responded by hiring independent shippers. The use of “fly-by-night operators with leaky ships and iffy insurance” actually increased the odds of spillage as a consequences of the new laws.

And then there was American sociologist Robert K. Merton, who wrote “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action,” in 1936. Merton identified five sources of unanticipated consequences. The first two – and the most pervasive – were “ignorance” and “error.” These were followed by the “imperious immediacy of interest” as well as “basic values” and then “self-defeating prediction.” Undeveloped by Merton was the bookend, “self-fulfilling prophesy.”

The “imperious immediacy of interest” is fascinating, as it prescribes to the notion in which someone wants the intended consequence of an action so much that he purposefully chooses to ignore any unintended effects.

Now, on the eve of the full manifestation of House Joint Resolution 3, Indiana’s constitutional marriage amendment – the issue that dominates the 2014 Howey Politics Indiana Power 50 list which you can read in full at www.howeypolitics.com – some of these theories will get a full public testing in this state, with a national audience not only watching, but also making contributions into our own internal affairs.

It will likely be the most compelling social referendum to go before Indiana voters since the 1988 gaming amendment. Two polls Howey Politics conducted in October 2012 and April 2013 saw the marriage amendment as a dead heat. And that's without either side spending a penny on the issue. By November, there will be millions spent trying to convince you.

There’s an even more recent example of unintended consequences. As U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar was facing a formidable primary challenge from Treasurer Richard Mourdock, his Republican congressional colleagues were neutral. In the spring of 2012, I asked a staffer on Mike Pence’s gubernatorial campaign whether they were concerned about the probable primary defeat of Lugar, the most prolific Republican vote getter in Hoosier history.

The answer was, “No, we’ll be OK,” even though Howey Politics Indiana polling had shown a fall matchup between Lugar and Democrat Joe Donnelly a 51-29 percent GOP rout, while the Mourdock/Donnelly matchup was a dead heat. We all know what happened. The landslide victory many anticipated for Pence became a nail-biter and, at 49 percent, the first governor elected in 50 years without a majority. The reckless Mourdock imploded in the final weeks of the campaign and female voters fled the GOP. Had the steady Lugar been on the ticket, Pence probably would have had his landslide, or at least a comfortable win.

At this point, HJR-3 (renamed last week) looks like it will pass the General Assembly.

It will attract outside money. Without a presidential, gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidate atop the ballot, the marriage issue will fill a vacuum.

Yes, Eric Miller’s Advance America group will get the church buses rolling on Election Day, as he did against the 1988 lottery amendment. Advance America began running TV ads in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis this week.

The issue will almost certainly bring out an array of moderate and left of center voters who, in the wake of President Barack Obama’s problems, might have been inclined to stay home.

There is already a state law stating marriage is between one man and one woman. Social conservatives want it embedded in the Constitution. They may get more than that.

Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol. The opinions are the writer's.

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