The epicenter of all this is the expansion of the smoking ban proposed by Council President Ryan Vaughn, due to be heard at tonight's Rules committee meeting. It is not Vaughn's actions, however, it is the reaction of Council Democrats to Vaughn that is causing the image of their Caucus to take a hit.
Democrats are wary, at best, regarding Vaughn's motives, and with good reason. Still, his eleventh hour proposal is a significant improvement to existing public policy, has the best shot in years of passage and is sure to be signed by Mayor Ballard. The Indianapolis Star, in its editorial on December 6, described the Democrats' response in juvenile terms, saying
...when your opponents give you 98 percent of what you want, it's politically unwise and even petty to pout over the 2 percent you didn't get. Yet, that's exactly what's happening in the debate over a comprehensive workplace smoking ban.
Councillor Angela Mansfield, whose reputation has been one of an intelligent, thoughtful Councillor, is taking a hit from what appears to be petulance on being one-upped by Vaughn. She must know that Vaughn is saving the Mayor the major embarrassment of vetoing a proposal to be introduced next year that would not exclude fraternal clubs and organizations. But she also must know that her hard work on a proposal that could pass the Council with the newly added Democratic votes, is likely to be vetoed by Ballard - ending her hopes to expand the smoking ban yet again.
Councillor Joanne Sanders is echoing Mansfield in telling the press that she will not promote Vaughn's proposal within the Caucus.
As the Star put it, just declare victory and move on.
The action of these prominent players in the Council's Democratic Caucus is not only jeopardizing good, if not perfect, public policy in terms of a smoking ban for Indianapolis. Should the public impression not be improved, and quickly, it also will have these additional points of impact:
1) It takes the limelight away from Vaughn's push to adopt new Council districts in advance of a Democratic majority taking over the Council come January. You cannot simultaneously pose as the adult in the room and act in ways that garner the use of the word "pout" by the City's largest newspaper.
2) It affects the public perception of how seriously the new Council will take important issues that arise next year and after.
3) It also removes from Mayor Greg Ballard, the stigma of being unable to work across the aisle with Democrats. The Democrats are now seen in an unfavorable, unreasonable light, due to their own words and actions; lightening any pressure Ballard may have received from the public to cooperate. Now, any fault for a paralyzed government will not be assigned solely to Ballard, but to the Council Democratic Caucus in equal measure.
The Democrats have little time to turn their actions and the public's perception of their motives around. The Caucus should have been able to celebrate the changing of the guard on January 1. Instead they have to make it clear that the public interest is their interest and fix the response to the Vaughn smoking ban proposal with all haste.