INDIANAPOLIS -- Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has been mostly quiet about a proposed hate crimes law that was killed in the Indiana Senate this week.
But the Indianapolis Star reports his office worked behind the scenes, pushing for the inclusion of transgender people in the bill - or not passing anything at all.
Holcomb's behind-the-scenes lobbying offers a rare glimpse of the approach the political-operative-turned-governor takes toward divisive social issues, which he has largely avoided addressing in public.
Republican Senate leader David Long of Fort Wayne said the message from Holcomb's office was clear: "Don't pass anything" if removing gender identity from the bill is the only way.
Long said they wanted to avoid a public relations catastrophe like the uproar over a 2015 religious objections law, which was changed after critics charged that it allowed discrimination against gay people.
The state was mocked as intolerant on social media, late night comedians cracked jokes at Indiana's expense and some threatened boycotts of the state.
"No one wanted a RFRA-type event," Long said, using an acronym for the religious objections law, which was titled the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Long blamed the measure's failure on a lack of agreement among Republicans. He downplayed the impact of Holcomb's role, noting that even if gender identity had been removed, the bill still wouldn't have mustered enough support to move forward.
Holcomb's office declined to comment on his behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Instead, they released the same statement they issued Tuesday after the bill was killed.
"I said at the very outset that I was open to the idea of a hate crimes bill. I still am," Holcomb said Tuesday. "But, for any progress to be made, there's going to have to be consensus among lawmakers."
Indiana is one of just five states without a hate crimes law.
But some lawmakers, under pressure from socially conservative groups that oppose expanded gay and transgender rights, were uncomfortable with the bill.
Critics say Holcomb's unwillingness to publicly weigh-in was a lost opportunity. It comes as Indianapolis is being consider as one of 20 finalists to land a planned second Amazon headquarters.
"The governor has done a good job avoiding controversial issues and pushing ahead in areas where we have consensus," said Megan Robertson, a Republican consultant. "But leadership is also about bringing people along with you to the right position."
Democrats charge that Holcomb acted with political cowardice that amounted to afailure of leadership.
"First-term Governor Eric Holcomb sat back and watched as Statehouse Republicans torpedoed the latest effort to removed Indiana from a dubious list of states without a hate crimes law," the Indiana Democratic Party said in a statement. "The most powerful Republican in the state decided to stay quiet."
Despite Holcomb's effort to prevent the kind of negative publicity that sprung up during the religious objections controversy, a coalition of gay-rights advocates announced a campaign Thursday to pressure Amazon to avoid choosing Indiana or eight other finalist states that do not protect residents from discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Long, who supported the hate crimes bill, expects it will return next year.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com