Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston did the right thing when he punished Indiana Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, for posting a racist meme on social media.
Huston – a Republican from Fishers – removed Lucas from two legislative committees and stripped him of a leadership position on another. Huston also told Lucas he didn’t approve of the Seymour Republican’s Facebook post.
That post featured a meme of black children dancing with wording that read: “We gon’ get free money!”
It was merely the latest in a series of disturbing posts by Lucas. Last year, to comment on the story of a black man accused of rape, he posted a photo of a noose – a clear allusion to lynching. In earlier posts, he made jokes about pepper-spraying female protestors and locking wives in car trunks to test their devotion to their husbands.
Some critics have dismissed Huston’s punishment of Lucas as a slap on the wrist. Those critics wanted nothing less than Lucas’s ouster from the Indiana House of Representatives.
It’s hard to see how Huston could have done that, for at least two reasons.
The first is that the mechanisms for removing a legislator from office are cumbersome and require proof that the lawmaker either committed specific legal offenses or has been incapacitated to the point that she or he cannot meet the responsibilities of the position.
Lucas hadn’t committed any of the offenses that might merit removal. It’s also difficult to argue that he’s not healthy enough to perform the duties of his office.
The second reason is the more important one.
Noxious as Lucas’s views and statements are, they are protected by the First Amendment. To remove someone from office and overturn the results of an election for saying things that are unpopular or even offensive would set a dangerous precedent.
Besides, even if the things Lucas says are foolish, nasty and just plain mean-spirited, he still has a right to say what he thinks.
We all do.
That’s a point that might be lost on Lucas.
He presents himself as the chief spokesperson for the National Rifle Association and what he calls “gun rights.”
It’s no secret that Lucas and I have clashed over the years on the issue of guns and gun laws. Almost every time I write a column about him or just about guns in general, he responds with long and emphatic comments filled with capital letters and exclamation points.
But he’s never grasped my primary concern about the way he conducts himself in those debates.
That concern isn’t that Lucas advocates for unlimited rights for gun owners. He’s entitled to do that.
What he’s not entitled to do is shut down and shout down everyone who has a different view from his on the subject.
That was the most appalling thing about the way Lucas handled himself a few years ago when he belittled and berated a witness testifying before a legislative committee in favor of new gun laws. Lucas and his caucus had all the votes they needed to prevent any gun bill from going anywhere in the legislature, so his only purpose in bullying the witness was to try to shut her up – along with anyone else who doesn’t think the same way about guns that he does.
The hope – most likely, a forlorn one – is that Lucas will learn something from this experience.
The House speaker clearly was trying to send him a message. That message was more important than the committee assignments involved.
The power of that message should not be underestimated.
What Todd Huston said was that the House Republican caucus doesn’t stand with Lucas. A rebuke of that nature would prompt a fair-minded, thinking man to mend his ways.
Whether it will have any effect on Jim Lucas remains to be seen.