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Sometime last summer or early fall some Indiana legislators of the Republican persuasion got together to try to find a way out of a mess pretty much of their own making that had brought the state derision, ridicule and more than a few bad jokes on late night television.
It had to do, of course, with the fallout from the squabble over religious freedom and gay rights and civil rights: Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the LGBT constituency – and that is the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered – and all of the attendant groups, organizations, congregations, associations, and pressure groups, each wanting a voice and a place at the table.
At some point, Travis Holdman, the elegant looking, nattily dressed and gentlemanly State Senator from District 19 – and that includes some of us and a good many people in adjacent counties – stepped to the front and volunteered to do the heavy lifting, to carry the water on something call Senate Bill 344, an attempt – a failed attempt, as it turned out – to bring peace to the fractured Hoosier family on these most contentious of issues.
Holdman, the Indiana poster child for conservative politics, was willing, apparently, to throw himself on the altar: No two ways about it; it would put him in the spotlight, play a role that made him appear far too close to being a liberal. He is, you will recall, one of those folks who believe we need a Constitutional Convention to fix Washington, an idea that make even rock-ribbed conservatives just a little squeamish.
But he did it. He carried the legislation, spoke passionately about finding a way out of the thicket and then, last week, had to stand at the front of the class and admit failure. “No matter what I do, no matter what I propose, I cannot move these walls that are on the right and left hand because nobody wants to give,” said the banker-turned-lawyer-turned-businessman from Markle, a town of 1,000 people divided down the middle by the Huntington-Wells county line.
This did not give him pleasure. Indeed, a week earlier speaking on the IWU campus in Marion, Holdman appeared both frustrated and resigned. An active, professed Christian, Holdman had asked in front of both God and the TV cameras, “What would Jesus do?” An answer was not forthcoming that day.
Niki Kelley, who covers the legislature for The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, wrote an insightful look at Holdman in Sunday’s newspaper: “Sen. Travis Holdman is either a hero, an idiot or a coward. Those are just a few of the colorful descriptions cast his way in recent months as he tried to bridge the gap between religious liberty and gay rights,” she wrote.
“That effort failed last week, and Holdman doubts he will be back for round two in 2017. But he doesn’t regret inserting himself into the clash – an evangelical Christian who met his wife at church camp and attended seminary before choosing missionary work instead.
‘Don’t dance, don’t chew. Don’t go with women who do,’ Holdman said of his conservative southwest Missouri upbringing and Christian commitment at age 11. So how did this faithful man find himself pushing civil rights protections for gay, lesbian and transgender Hoosiers? After last year’s religious freedom bill blew up into a debate on discrimination, he and his wife talked about his carrying the bill this year. ‘As people of faith, we thought it was the right thing to do,’ Holdman said. ‘We are called to live at peace with people. We are never going to be a force in their life unless we are tolerant. My wife says I’m not doing it again. She can’t stand seeing the bad things online,’ he said. ‘I told her I was sorry for bringing it on us, and she said it was the right thing to do.’ ”