Enacting a “license to discriminate” law, since altered, cost Indiana some goodwill — and now it’s going to cost the state at least $2 million to have a prominent public relations firm do damage control.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. and the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, both state agencies, announced Monday that they were hiring Porter Novelli to strengthen Indiana’s reputation “as a welcoming place to live, visit and do business,” the Associated Press reports. The state will pay the firm $2 million for its services and is expected to spend additional funds on whatever advertising the firm recommends it buy, according to The Indianapolis Star.
“The recent controversy has advanced the thinking of just a lot of people, that you can’t take for granted that people know what Indiana is,” Chris Cotterill, general counsel for the Indiana Economic Development Corp., told the Star.
That controversy involved the passage of a bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence late last month, that many feared would allow businesses and individuals to cite religious objections as legal cover to discriminate against, say, LGBT people, members of different faiths, and others who might offend their religious sensibilities. After extensive national outcry against the law, legislators passed and Pence signed an amendment saying it could not be used to justify discrimination. A similar process took place about the same time in Arkansas.
Meeting with reporters today, Pence said “the difficult time” relating to the bill “is behind us,” and defended the hiring of the PR firm, the Star reports. “We’ve got a great story to tell,” he said. “I really do believe that we are through the storm, that now’s the time to heal.”
The Human Rights Campaign offered Pence some free advice on how to repair the state’s image. “'Hoosier hospitality' is on life support, and Gov. Mike Pence has only himself to blame, but now he’s passing the bill on to Indiana’s taxpayers by forcing them to pay for high-dollar public relations advice to fix the damage,” said HRC vice president for communications Fred Sainz in a press release. “But I’ve got good news for the governor — this 20-year PR flack is happy to pass along some tips for free. Pledge to support and sign nondiscrimination legislation early next legislative session that protects all Hoosiers — it’s quick, cheap, easy, and a surefire way to end up on the right side of history.”
State Rep. Ed DeLaney planned to propose legislation today that would do just that, the Star notes. Indiana law does not currently ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; some cities in the state have such laws, but there is no statewide protection. DeLaney was to introduce his measure as an amendment to an unrelated bill.
Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by the HRC indicates most Hoosiers did not support the intent of the original RFRA and that the legislation made Pence’s approval rating drop precipitously. The poll, conducted last week by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, found 62 percent of respondents saying a business should not be able to refuse service because of a customer’s sexual orientation or gender identity; 59 percent said that should be the case even if providing the service would violate the operator’s religious beliefs.
Some 53 percent of respondents said that Pence’s signing of the original bill gave them an unfavorable impression of him. The poll also found that only 43 percent of those surveyed rated Pence’s performance in office as “excellent” or “good,” while a February poll by a different organization found 62 percent of respondents approving of the governor.