By Brian Howey
Sometime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. this Saturday in Fort Wayne, the Indiana Republicans will chart a course that could impact their position as Indiana’s super majority party.
The supposed 1,775 delegates (not all will show up) will make a determination on whether the party’s 2014 platform addresses the constitutional marriage amendment, and it will choose a state treasurer nominee who could expose the various fissures – Tea Party, establishment, money wings – of the party.
While the treasurer floor fight among Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold, Don Bates Jr., and Kelly Mitchell has been the long-anticipated event for the Indiana Republican Convention, it is the platform, normally an obscure, rote exercise that rarely influences voters, that could define Hoosier Republicans for the next several years. In 2012, neither Indiana Republicans nor Democrats took a platform stance on the marriage issue.
The Republican platform committee did not take a formal vote, with some suggesting the panel headed by Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann was split, which sources tell Howey Politics Indiana could force the issue to the Resolutions Committee. It would then go to the delegates for an up or down floor vote coming shortly after the convention is gaveled into session at 10 a.m. Family advocates such as Curt Smith, Micah Clark and Jim Bopp Jr., have relentlessly pursued Platform and now Resolution Committee members to include a stance on the marriage issue.
It will come less than 18 hours after Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus addresses the opening session on Friday night, and a little more than a year after Priebus issued a starkly candid and brutal assessment of the party, after its stunning 2012 election in which it lost the White House and failed to take the U.S. Senate. This was partly due to the implosion of Indiana nominee Richard Mourdock and other Tea Party nominees over the past two cycles in Missouri, Nevada, Colorado and Delaware.
On the marriage issue, the Growth and Opportunity Project said, “For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays, and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be. If our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out. The party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree.”
After the report was released in March 2013, few Hoosier Republican leaders wanted to comment. U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and Gov. Mike Pence brushed aside questions from Howey Politics Indiana about the report. Pence would go on to back HJR-6, the constitutional marriage amendment. But the Indiana House and Senate removed the second sentence, and now the earliest the amendment could appear on the ballot would be 2016, when Pence could face reelection unless he opts for the presidential race.
Twenty-three House Republicans voted against the second sentence. Three months later, State Reps. Rebecca Kubacki and Kathy Heuer were defeated in the Republican primary, in large part because of their vote on the marriage amendment, with both rejecting it outright. Family groups are threatening to “primary” other Republicans who have shifted on the issue.
The issue appeared to fuel large attendance at the Indiana Democratic Jefferson-Jackson dinner last weekend, as delegates and party leaders denounced the GOP’s “divisive social issues.”
The Growth and Opportunity Project set in motion what is likely to play out Saturday in Fort Wayne, which is that same-sex marriage is on course to become a source of significant division within the Republican Party, as social conservatives view the commitment to marriage as a sacrament between a man and woman. Bopp pushed the platform committee to include a marriage platform plank which said: “We believe that strong families, based on marriage between a man and a woman, are the foundation of society.” It also added language to recognize “diverse” family structures.
Bopp is no stranger to controversy. After pushing the RNC to adopt a litmus test for candidates, he lost his national committee post in 2012 to the more moderate John Hammond III.
One Republican Central Committee member said Monday, “Nobody is happy with that language.” Social conservatives don’t believe it is emphatic enough. Moderates fear it will cost the party independent and moderate voters. Indiana Democrats are praying for a donnybrook showdown and a defining issue for the November election.”
Brian Howey is an Indiana political columnist and publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol).