Where Things Stand: Legislating Problems Into Existence

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BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2020/12/15: Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb wearing a face mask speaks during a round table discussion at Catalent Biologics, where COVID vaccine vials are being filled. (Photo by ... BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2020/12/15: Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb wearing a face mask speaks during a round table discussion at Catalent Biologics, where COVID vaccine vials are being filled. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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^A GOP memoir.

Indiana’s Republican governor vetoed his state’s GOP-dominated legislature’s bill on Monday that would’ve banned transgender girls from participating in girls schools sports.

But hold your applause. Gov. Eric Holcomb maintained in vetoing the legislation that he supports the anti-trans sentiment behind the bill overall and only blocked its passage because, in its current form, the text of the bill “falls short” of creating a consistent Indiana policy for “fairness in K-12 sports.” In his letter vetoing the legislation, he pointed out that the bill doesn’t do enough because the supposed problem it was crafted to prevent … does not yet exist.

“The presumption of the policy laid out in HEA 1041 is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention,” Holcomb wrote. “It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the effort overall.”

The bill will now be sent back to the Republican-controlled state legislature, with a veto override vote expected to be scheduled in both the state House and Senate on as early as May 24.

So while the veto may gift opponents of the legislation a momentary sigh of relief, it is temporary, seemingly an effort on Holcomb’s part to deflect responsibility for the passage of his state’s version of the same kind of anti-trans bills that have been sweeping the nation in recent months.

But his veto rationale points to a theme we’ve seen emerge repeatedly in the past year, as minority grievances are codified into state law — regardless of whether they address anything more real than a set of Fox News talking points. It’s all part of a broader GOP distraction tactic, seemingly designed to stoke cultural fears among the angriest and most fearful members of the base and to keep voters in the dark about the party’s non-existent policy platform heading into the midterms.

There are tons of examples of this playing out. Just Monday, the Tennessee state Senate passed a bill that screams of anti-“Critical Race Theory” panic. The bill aims to clear the way for students and employees to sue public higher education institutions in the state if they think they’ve been punished for disagreeing with “divisive concepts” on campus, either forced upon them by professors or by other school personnel.

“Divisive concepts” has become the generic code term in bills put forward by state legislatures across the country for these Republican efforts to ban what right-wing media calls Critical Race Theory from public schools. The GOP has essentially hijacked the term CRT — which actually refers to an academic framework most often found at the post-graduate level — as a catchall for any public curriculum or workplace policy that encourages discussions of or teaching about systemic racism or racism in America.

The Tennessee bill doesn’t mention the term Critical Race Theory, but its supporters have admitted that efforts to teach about such topics are the intended target. The “divisive concepts” outlined in the bill include everything from teaching beliefs that “one race or sex is inherently superior or inferior to another race or sex” to “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously” to “this state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.”

The defining language essentially mirrors what’s been presented and passed in other Republican states in the past year. And the rationale for bringing the bill forward in Tennessee is similar to what just played out in Indiana. On their faces, the intended targets of both bills seem miles apart, but they both fall into the Republican culture war bucket of diversion. And they’re meant to address a similar non-problem: preventing an obstacle that simply … does not exist.

Per ABC News’ coverage of the Tennessee legislation:

Pressed by reporters last month, (Republican state Rep. Cameron) Sexton declined to give a specific example of a student or staffer who had been harmed for disagreeing with a particular controversial topic. Instead, Sexton said the bill was needed so Tennessee could be “proactive” after hearing of incidents around the country.

The Best Of TPM Today

Here’s what you should read this evening:

The latest from Josh Kovensky, a must-read: How To Think About The Risks Of An Escalating Russia-Ukraine War | Talking Points Memo

Catch up on Kate Riga’s live coverage of the Jackson hearings, round 2: Jackson On The Hot Seat For Day 2 Of Hearings

A bizarre collision of TPM coverage points: Jan. 6 Insurrectionist Granted Asylum In Belarus, According To State Media

Our latest reporting on domestic abuse allegations against GOPer Eric Greitens, the disgraced former governor of Missouri who is now running for an open Senate seat. First this: Some Senate GOPers Demand Greitens Drop Out Of Race

Then, this: Greitens’ Ex-Wife Stands By Her Allegations As Greitens Complains That McConnell Wants To Sideline Him

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Why Do We Still Support the Saudis? — Josh Marshall

What We Are Reading

Opinion: Republicans promised ‘no circus’ at Jackson’s hearing. Then the clown car rolled in. — Dana Milbank

Bernie Sanders Calls for the Cancellation of All Medical Debt — Sharon Zhang

Llano County librarian loses job after not removing books — Nabil Remadna

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