Sunday, April 5, 2015

Indiana's place in America matters, so act like it

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 5 April 2015

Congratulations, Indiana! You matter. The firestorm that you find yourself in surrounding the RFRA began locally, quickly spread nationally and is now international. While some think what others think shouldn’t matter and are annoyed at the negative attention, the fact is Indiana matters now to a lot of people beyond your borders. This has not always been true.

I moved to Indiana almost 30 years ago and as an outsider, it was clear there was tension between those who didn’t care what outsiders thought (especially those in Washington, New York, California and especially Illinois) and those who did. When I first came here, those who didn’t care were in charge. But Gov. Bayh was different: He cared what outsiders thought and focused on education and economic development. Gov. Daniels continued bringing Indiana more in line with the world beyond the borders. Recall, his first action was to move Indiana onto daylight saving time.

Indianapolis has transformed in these almost 30 years. Despite Indianapolis hosting an NBA and NFL team, the city seemed backwards and wasn’t in the same league as major cities like Chicago, New York and Atlanta. This is no longer the case. It’s hosting another Final Four this weekend; it will, no doubt, host another Super Bowl before the end of the decade. It has become a major destination city and it is not because of its bustling waterfront or mile high mountains or unpolluted air. It’s the welcoming attitude, world class facilities, operations and people.

Hosting events like Super Bowls and Final Fours, major conventions, and hosting major businesses like Angie’s List (a new tech service industry), Lilly, NASCAR and the NCAA come with the price tag of success, that is, Indiana matters because people care about stuff that happens here. And while the ardent supporters of RFRA might try to hide what RFRA is about, to outsiders, it is clear what RFRA is about and it doesn’t fit with a city/state that only has one thing going for it: Being a world-class host. RFRA clashes with the image and expectations (think of Indy as a brand) of a world-class host.

Over the past few years, I’ve talked with travelers about Indianapolis. I’ve never heard a negative thing. I hear stories of the fantastic waiter, Martin, at a well-known steakhouse; the pioneering owner of a restaurant that is quietly doing a hard business in a sustainable fashion; and near world-class entertainment and a growing hub of culture and creativity. My best and longest friend, a Chicagoan, recently visited me in Indianapolis. He adhered to the former image of Indy and after a weekend, left most impressed. Far from a hinterland, whether you like it or not Indiana, you matter to a lot of people who do not call Indiana home.

Let’s not kid ourselves. If a caterer doesn’t want to cater a gay wedding, or a pizza joint doesn’t want to provide pizza for a gay event, all they need to say is “Sorry, we’re booked that day.” This is what myriad other bigots do every day in the housing, restaurant, transportation and other service industries. It’s not right, but it happens and it’s typically unknown to the would-be customer. But some extreme Christians, who think their business is also a ministry, want to tell the gay customer why they won’t serve them. This is the reason why this bill was passed into law. This is the freedom that its supporters want. After all, as your legislative leaders said, there is no law in Indiana against discriminating against gays and lesbians. RFRA would just “cover” those who want to pretend they are acting morally.

Anyone who manages a brand knows how hard it is to establish a brand and how easily it can be hurt. Make no mistake, Indiana; you’ve hurt your brand. When the hometown conservative newspaper in a bold front page editorial says “Fix This Now,” you’ve screwed up. And damage control won’t work with a brand; you have to act in a way that reflects the brand. Dodging and weaving, stuttering and stammering, does not befit this brand. Take a cue from the Visit Indy website and get back to the brand: Indiana is Welcome to All.

PS. Stop blaming the media for your woes. It is news when big companies express themselves like this.

PPS. Indiana Democrats, you need a better candidate. Mayor Ballard will take care of Governor Pence. Who do you have to run against Ballard?
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