Politicians, especially many Republicans, often talk of operating government like a business.
I think they mean government should be efficient with its resources and how it delivers service. It is a solid principle for both government and business, but it’s too easy to bash bureaucracy and overlook corporate inefficiency.
So the comparison isn’t perfect, though there is one strong parallel to consider when the General Assembly convenes Monday, and that is collaboration.
Every motivational speaker has at least two slides in the PowerPoint deck harping on the importance of collaboration to business success. It probably says something like “you + working + others = success.”
There is no more hip place in town than the Speak Easy, a shared-work space in SoBro. Unless, of course, it’s one of the other five places like it dotting the local map. Three more are in the works.
I spent a lot of years in newsrooms where the answer to any question was just a shout across the room away and the din rose the nearer deadline drew. You can do that at the Speak Easy, too, and at any of the many Fortune 500 companies, such as Google and Facebook, that have spent millions trying to emulate the collaborative newsroom nature.
These are idea factories. What starts as conversation can become the next killer app. Even more important, though, is the organic process that vets those ideas. The collective wisdom and experience of a roomful of kindred minds not only builds up good ideas, it kills bad ones.
Collaboration is what makes the “business cluster” concept possible. In Warsaw, one orthopedic business begat another, which begat another, and now thousands of people generate billions in economic output every year there.
In this example, collaboration does not trump competition. It might even foster it in a very healthy way.
And this brings us back to the General Assembly. Republicans enjoy majorities so large in the House of Representatives and the Senate that they can conduct business without any Democrats present if the leaders so desire. It has been 40 years since there was a majority this large in the House and 60 years since in the Senate.
Even the longest-serving lawmakers will have a hard time recalling what it’s like to operate in such an atmosphere. So it would be easy for Republicans to steamroll a legislative agenda, but it wouldn’t be good lawmaking or good politics.
It’s a much better idea to collaborate with the 29 Democrats in the House and the 10 in the Senate for three reasons.
The first is simple. Good ideas aren’t limited to any political party. Democrats will present an agenda that’s likely very different from the Republicans’, but it is likely that members of the minority party will have good ideas on individual bills. If Republicans incorporate some of those ideas, the collaboration will result in better legislation.
And this leads to the second reason. It’s better to claim bipartisanship, especially on the big issues, such as the state budget, than it is to record party-line votes just because you can.
More than 1.8 million Hoosiers are represented by Democrats in the House, for instance, and they’d like to think the people they elected matter.
Another reason Republicans ought to make sure they collaborate with Democrats is to avoid the impression they’re forcing their agenda. No one likes to be told what to do; working with the opposition mitigates that feeling.
Hoosiers will be better off if Republicans and Democrats collaborate. So will Republicans and Democrats in the Statehouse. If you don’t believe me, ask one of the Democrats who was around a few years ago when they decamped for Illinois to avoid voting on the right-to-work legislation.
It would behoove Republicans to remember, too, that the most recent election boosted the size of their caucuses, but it hardly handed them a mandate. Indiana’s worst-in-the-nation turnout means a sliver of the eligible Hoosiers bothered to vote.
Shame on the nonvoters, but woe is the Republican who misreads the outcome as a mandate. The surest way to motivate voters is to overreach legislatively, and Republicans probably won’t like the result.
It’ll take a while for lawmakers to understand how to operate with the new, larger Republican majorities, but I’m sure by the time it’s over we’ll find out whether Republicans are really serious about operating government as a business.
John Ketzenberger is president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization to research state budget and tax issues. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnKetz.
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