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Wednesday, April 26, 2017
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Gov. Eric Holcomb and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch reviewed the just concluded Indiana General Assembly session on Tuesday morning. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
Gov. Eric Holcomb and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch reviewed the just concluded Indiana General Assembly session on Tuesday morning. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
Tuesday, April 25, 2017 12:41 PM

INDIANAPOLIS – Fresh off an over-achieving first General Assembly session, Gov. Eric Holcomb vowed to sign the biennial budget and his prized 20-year road and infrastructure plan with Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long on Thursday. HB1001 and HB1002 mark the gold standard of policy achievement for the rookie governor, making for a $32 billion biennial budget that funds everything including economic development and a better workforce, and makes a down payment on the state’s coming epic battle against the opioid epidemic. HB1002 will pump billions of dollars over the next two decades into Indiana’s deteriorating roads and infrastructure.

“The legislature over-delivered,” a beaming Holcomb said at a press conference in his Statehouse office Tuesday morning. Flanked by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Holcomb vowed to “pivot and execute” on what he has described over the past five months as his “five pillar” policy plan. He said he had asked the General Assembly in January for the “tools to govern aggressively.” He said the biennial budget “satisfies that underlying goal.”

Crouch called the session “the most collaborative and civil” session in the 12 she’s taken part in. She and Holcomb heralded the extra funding and expansion into rural counties for the pre-K pilot program that she originally sponsored as a member of the House in 2013. “We are thrilled to take that to the next level.”

Asked about his style, Holcomb said he “made it a practice to over-communicate,” though he asked Bosma and Long at one point, “Let me know if I become a pest.”

Holcomb said he has signed 161 bills into law and has decisions to make on 109 others between now and May 6. One of those is HB1496, the controversial “Ricker’s bill” that seeks to crimp cold beer sales at convenience stores in Columbus and Sheridan. While Holcomb acknowledged that he defended the Alcohol Tobacco Commission which approved the two licenses, he added, “We’re still reviewing it. I will reserve all comments.” Bosma has said he has had conversations with Holcomb about a potential alcohol distribution and regulation revamp in 2018.
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    INDIANAPOLIS – Where have you gone Jim Jontz, Jill Long, Frank McCloskey, John Brademas, John Hiler, Baron Hill, Mike Sodrel, John Hostettler, and Chris Chocola? These are names on the list of Hoosier members of Congress who ended their political careers in defeat over the past three decades. Unless there are extraordinary political waves, the way Indiana’s electoral process is trending, the congressional upset of the future could become a rare event. Earlier this month, the Cook Political Report issued the 2017 version of the Cook Partisan Index and there are only two Indiana districts in the single digit range. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky’s 1st Congressional District is +8 Democratic, and U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks’ 5th CD is +9 Republican. The previous competitive district, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski’s 2nd CD, went from a +6 Republican in 2014 to a +11 Republican this year. Remember the Bloody 8th? It’s not so bloody anymore. When Cook came out with its first index in 1998, U.S. Rep. Hostettler, who had upset Democrat McCloskey four years prior, sat in a +2.5 Republican district. It was +8 Republican in 2014 and is now a +15 Republican district today.

    INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Democratic Party hasn’t felt like much of a party lately.  More like a support group meeting, or an amateur cage match.  We have a lingering case of loseritis, and it has negatively impacted our collective self-esteem. We need to remember that we are the party of fun, of cool, a party of people who are motivated about the well-being of others. How many of us have moved on from rolling our eyes to smashing our screens when we receive those doom and gloom overly urgent political fundraising emails? It is time to reconnect to our identity, and the promise we can bring to Hoosiers around the state.  We are the party that appreciates everybody, no matter your gender, color, religion, sexual orientation, whatever.  People, we like all of you!  And we think it is important to stand up to bullies who don’t.  We also get things done. In fact, Democratic leadership is thriving in our cities and towns around Indiana.

    FORT WAYNE – Every day we get lectured by the media and Trump critics that he is not “draining the swamp” as promised.  In fact, he is expanding it. The key is how one defines the swamp. To liberals, the swamp is a place that looks like Okefenokee. Stagnant water, with partially submerged trees dominated by clinging Spanish moss. To them, the smooth flow of government is stagnated by business interests. Their lobbyists strangle the trees, feeding off a corrupt system. This is the core view of Bernie Elizabeth Warren. Libertarian conservatives would prefer D.C. reverted back to its days of original swampland. To them, the “swamp” means all the buildings of intrusive government workers that have now expanded the swamp of big government out to the surrounding beltway and beyond. But what did the swamp mean to the Trump core? The 25% to 35% of Republican primary voters which enabled him to have the largest faction over and over again? He reached 50% only as Republican voters opposed to him were faced with fewer choices and found him preferable to, say, Ted Cruz. In other words, the Trump political operation was not built upon a majority but a plurality that grew as the choices narrowed. 
    MERRILLVILLE – The case involving Lake County Sheriff John Buncich seemingly gets more bizarre by the week. Buncich, who is in his fourth term as sheriff, was indicted in November on bribery charges. His latest trial date is Aug. 7, but even that may well get continued. The most interesting twist came a week ago when the sheriff issued a press release proclaiming his innocence. While Buncich entered a not guilty plea when charged, last week was the first time he made a public comment. The sheriff issued a press release through his attorney, Bryan Truitt. Buncich said, “I assure you that I am absolutely innocent.” He went on to say, “For those of you who know me and my 45 years in law enforcement, you know I would never compromise my integrity or professionalism and cannot be guilty of these charges. Trust that I would never sell my office, not for any amount.” Why the sheriff issued such a statement five months after the indictment has raised some eyebrows. Some say it simply is a matter of looking for support in the court of public opinion before he goes to trial.
    SOUTH BEND – What difference does it make? Sen. Joe Donnelly is the center of attention with the Senate drama over confirming Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Most Senate Democrats, but not Donnelly, sought to block Gorsuch. Republicans responded to refusal of enough Democrats to join in providing the required 60 votes for confirmation by blowing up that requirement with the “nuclear option.” What difference did it make that Donnelly was one of only three Democrats to vote for Gorsuch?  Well, it meant that the vote confirming Gorsuch, with one Republican absent, was 54-45 instead of 53-46. Clearly, not enough Democrats would join with the 52-member Republican majority to provide 60 votes to end a filibuster blocking Gorsuch and confirm him. It was clear also that Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell would use that “nuclear option” to end filibusters on Supreme Court nominees and allow confirmation by a simple majority. Gorsuch was going to be on the court, no matter what Donnelly did. He was no difference-maker. But what difference does it make for Donnelly as he faces re-election next year?
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  • Atomic: Holcomb's veto; Pence 38% approval; Korean crisis grows
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Gov. Holcomb’s first veto: Gov. Eric Holcomb issued his first veto, aimed at House Enrolled Act. No. 1523, which could charge up to $20 an hour in search fees for public records requests. “While I understand the intent behind the bill to offset the considerable time and expense often devoted to fulfilling public records requests, I view this proposed legislation as contrary to my commitment to providing great government service at a great value for Hoosier taxpayers,” Holcomb said. “Providing access to public records is a key part of the work public servants perform and is important from a government transparency standpoint. I do not support policies that create burdensome obstacles to the public gaining access to public documents. I vetoed HEA 1523 for these reasons; however, I support the provision requiring public agencies to provide electronic copies of public records in electronic format (such as emails) if requested.”

  • Atomic: Poison pill for cities; luv for the Guv; Delph a-Twitter
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. An 11th hour poison pill for Indiana municipalities: Your Monday power lunch talking points: You never know what’s going to crawl out of the sine die woodwork. Six decades ago you could see scenes like lawmakers with toy lawnmowers chasing Aloha-themed dresses on babes in the House Chambers (yes, documented in Justin Walsh’s “The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978”). It was more sedate as Friday turned to Saturday, but the “what the hell” moments were two-fold. First, the biennial budget ended Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton’s annexation efforts. Second, a provision turned up allowing the purchase of lethal injection drugs for the state’s next execution, that would bar revealing who made the ever-scarcer drug. So much for local control and transparency. On the annexation halt, this will send a shiver through the spine of every mayor and city council(wo)man. As Mayor Hamilton told the Bloomington Herald-Times, “To the extent they did this to us here, they could do this to anyone else. They could intervene ... and take over a local issue.”
  • Leaders in both parties give Gov. Holcomb high marks

    INDIANAPOLIS - House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate Pro Tempore David Long summed up the adjourned 2017 Indiana General Assembly that was “historic" and monumental, with billions of dollars of future road funding over the next two decades and millions more for education. Both had high praise for first year Gov. Eric Holcomb. Long said, “I really love the man. He respected the process during the last few weeks and let us do our work.” Bosma added, “The governor handled this session very well and will be a great executive.” All leadership agreed that Governor Holcomb''s first session went better than his predecessors Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels, with Sen. Long calling it very smooth. Leadership was also happy with other legislation passed this session saying “We hit every goal we set out to do.” Long observed, “We hit all five of the main issues of a balanced budget, roads plan, opioid addiction, workforce development and education funding.”
  • Historic road funding, more pre-K funds and a Ricker's rebuke

    INDIANAPOLIS - Working into the late hours of Friday night, the Indiana General Assembly put a lid on the 2017 session, highlighted by passage of bills on the state budget, road funding and cold beer sales. Fueled by a sizable evening pizza delivery, both the House and Senate approved the legislation which now sits on Gov. Eric Holcomb's desk for final approval. The final state biennial budget totals $32.3 billion and is projected to leave a $1.96 billion surplus in fiscal year 2019. Over half of the budget is allocated for either pre-K funding, K-12 education and higher education with a $345 million total increase in those areas. The budget passed 42 to 8 in the Senate and 68 to 30 in the House. In an unexpected late session surprise, Gov Holcomb ended up with more pre-K funding than he anticipated. In the chaos of the last day of session, both the House and Senate passed HB 1004.
  • Atomic: Henry's garbage; historic roads; opioid relief; Dr. Larry
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Nashville, Ind.

    1. Henry finds a dog of a bill at the Statehouse: Your final Friday power lunch talking points: Just about every dog, even a fine hound like First Dog Henry Holcomb, will go out in the backyard or the beach and bring back a dead fish, a squirrel carcass, a chicken bone, a half-eaten burrito or even a piece of poop. First Lady Janet Holcomb likely responds by donning a latex glove, taking the  offending flotsam straight out to the garage garbage can, so as not to stink up the kitchen. If Henry Holcomb had been at the Statehouse on Thursday, he might have dug up HB1496, a piece of garbage from back behind Rube Goldberg’s House. While the scent of flora from true victories like the 20-year road bill and the appointed superintendent concurrences wafts above the marble, HB1496 is the bill that has people looking side to side in a sultry room to see who tilted. HB1496 is a pirate Bandaid on the Hoosier embarrassment, which is the state’s 80-year-old three-tier alcohol system. It does things Joe Sixpacks deem stupid, like allowing one to buy cold wine at a Ricker’s Convenient Store, but not cold beer.
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  • Trump vows to build the wall as Congress balks
    “Don't let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL. It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc. The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)!” - President Trump, disputing media reports on Twitter that he had “caved” on building the Mexican border wall. The Washington Post reported: Last night the president backed off his demand that any deal to fund the federal government include money to start construction on his border wall. At an event with conservative journalists, Trump said he’s okay waiting until September to have this fight.
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  • President Trump a polling bottom feeder
    President Trump is flagging in the polls, with the latest NBC/WSJ Poll putting his job approval at 40% with 56% disapproving. NBC notes that Trump is “still holding on to Republicans and his most committed supporters. In the poll, 82% of Republican respondents, 90% of self-described Trump voters, and 56% of white working-class Americans” but he stands at only 30% with independents and 34% of college educated whites. And here’s how Trump stacks up with modern presidents at this stage of their presidencies: Eisenhower: 73% (April 1953); Kennedy: 78% (April 1961); Nixon: 61% (April 1969); Carter: 63% (April 1977); Reagan: 67% (April 1981); Bush 41: 58% (April 1989); Clinton: 52% (April 1993); Bush 43: 57% (April 2001); Obama: 61% (April 2009); Trump: 40% (April 2017). Why the low standing? Just 27% give him high marks for being knowledgeable and experienced and only 21% give him high marks for having the right temperament. And then there’s that problem with the truth: Just 25% give him high marks for being honest and trustworthy, down from 34%. On top of all this, he faces a yuuuuge week with the debt ceiling showdown, a new tax plan his Treasury Department doesn’t seem to know about, a second stab at TrumpCare, and that arbitrary "first 100-days" measuring post. - Brian A. Howey, Publisher
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