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Thursday, March 23, 2017
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Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:28 PM
ANGOLA, Ind. – These past few weeks, we’ve seen yet another example of sclerosis in Washington, this time with the farm bill. On a topic that begged for compromise, everyone dug in, and there was celebration in some quarters even as they were spitting the ashes out of their mouths.
    
Next up comes the immigration package, with House Republicans overwhelmingly balking Wednesday at the Senate passed bill despite warnings from Speaker John Boehner about the political consequences.
Later this year, we’ll get another debt limit faux crisis.
    
It is a city of gangs who can’t shoot straight, of rhetoric akin to methane gas seeping out of a melting tundra. Gallup has congressional approval at 10 percent, yet another historic low.
    
LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo’s column on page 1 hits a number of points that are resonating. And it underscores a recent piece by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks on what he calls the “power inversion,” the rise of city states and regional governments that fill the void left by the partisan polarization in Washington.
  • MUNCIE – President Trump sits in the White House today because, in part, Democrats ceded rural Indiana and rural America. The Hoosier State is barely functioning in a two-party system. I asked Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody for a list of county chairs elected on March 3. According to a party spread sheet, Daviess, Gibson, Martin and Henry counties listed no chair. Mine down a bit further and you see Donald Trump won Daviess County with 79.6 percent of the vote, 71.6 percent in Gibson, 69.2 percent in Henry and 76.9 percent in Martin. This is all relevant because during the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump vowed repeatedly and vociferously to repeal and replace Obamacare. In January, Trump promised “terrific” coverage “for everybody.” The new Health and Human Services Sec. Tom Price vowed that “nobody will be worse off financially” with the plan proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and is being pushed by Vice President Mike Pence.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – In politics, first and last impressions are impactful. Through that prism we view the four-year term of Gov. Mike Pence. The final impressions of Gov. Pence will enter the playbook for future governors. Following the 2016 General Assembly session, Pence essentially checked out as a full-time governor. There were no media avails following sine die. A heroin epidemic raged across the state with hundreds of overdoses and Pence was silent. More than 1,000 East Chicago Hoosiers were uprooted from their homes due to a lead contamination crisis, and the Pence administration mustered $100,000, but no visit or empathy. The I-69 Section 5 road project stalled between Bloomington and Martinsville, and Pence was silent. His governorship stands out as the only one to attain office with less than 50% of the vote in more than half a century. Pence became one of the most polarizing governors in modern times. His favorables in the WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana poll were upside down. In the last head-to-head with Democrat John Gregg in April 2016, Pence had a 4 percent lead, but his fav/unfavs stood at 44/41 percent. Those kind of numbers for incumbents usually define a looming defeat. Little wonder that he pursued the vice presidential nomination with great zeal. The Pence legacy will be bookended by two key cornerstones: The economy thrived during his tenure, with the state reaching record employment while the jobless rate declined by more than 4%. But Donald Trump exploited an economic angst that seemed to collide with Pence’s metrics. His own reelection prospects were compromised by social issues he didn’t seek, but couldn’t resist signing.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Vice President Mike Pence has always taken the so-called “long view” when it comes to his career. After losing two congressional races in the late 1980s, he settled into a think tank and broadcasting career, then went to Congress in 2001.  In 2011, he mulled a presidential bid for the following year, then focused on becoming Indiana’s 50th governor. There was the potential for a 2016 White House campaign. Some believe that his signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act knocked him out, but others say he knew the crowded field left him only a slender path to the nomination. The clearer path was to get on the presidential ticket, and from May through July 2016, he executed a savvy strategy, wooing Donald Trump when dozens of other Republicans took a pass. When the veep nomination flickered on July 14, he boarded a charter jet and retrieved the prize.
        
  • INDIANAPOLIS – There was a rapping, rapping at my chamber door and when I peeked out, there was NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw. “You’ve got shingles!” Bradshaw said and he started to take off his shirt. I told him how disappointed I was the Chicago Bears didn’t get to draft him in 1969 and then asked him to calm down and leave his shirt on. I learned that I didn’t have shingles, but nearby 79th Street does. So does Dean Road, and Allisonville Road, and Central Avenue and . . . . These are expanding patches of local roads with bumpy dollops of asphalt, filling a multitude of pot holes. Legendary Chicago columnist Mike Royko used to write about paying the “victim tax.” In general parlance, it meant getting mugged, having your car stolen or your apartment burglarized. Hoosier motorists have been on a similar trajectory. We pay the “axle tax” or the “rim tax” or the “muffler tax.” It’s the collateral damage your car or truck takes from Indiana’s deteriorating roads. My Subaru Outback has a plastic part dangling in the wheel well after a winter of pot hole dodging. But Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long have a plan. It’s called House Bill 1002 and it will create a 20-year road plan with several new funding mechanisms.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – We’ve had two presidents of the television age who were serial liars. From 1972 through 1974, President Richard Nixon repeatedly lied about the Watergate scandal. In 1998 it was President Bill Clinton who told us “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." It didn’t end particularly well for either of them. Clinton was impeached but acquitted and Nixon resigned just before impeachment. There is immense danger when presidents lie. America is now a week into its experiment with the populist President Donald Trump. It comes as the “post-truth” presidential race has morphed into an administration operating on, as senior advisor Kellyanne Conway termed it, “alternative facts.” Trump supporters frequently say he was “telling it like it is,” but that really means he is conveying perceptions as opposed to facts. Conway had advised prior to the inaugural that the media shouldn’t seek the Trumpian truth through his words, but through his heart. So this will be a tough challenge if you’re a reporter, a congressman, a governor or a citizen who needs to believe their president.

  • ZIONSVILLE - Eric Holcomb was riding the whirlwind in 2016. The day I finally caught up with the incoming 51st governor of Indiana for a road trip began with a cruise up I-65 for a job announcement in Merrillville, and it ended with a 100-mph beeline in an Indiana State Police Chevy Tahoe down U.S. 31 as Kokomo laid in tatters following a rare August tornado. Holcomb began the year as a third-place U.S. Senate candidate followed by a series of right time/right place scenarios that thrust him into the governor’s office. When Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann resigned, Gov. Mike Pence found in Holcomb a former chairman of the Republican Party who could patch the GOP together following the divisive social issues of 2015. By early July, Pence was being courted by Donald Trump for the presidential ticket.

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - The brute force of weapons with the potential to wipe out mankind has been balanced by a wide strata of interlocking elements, nuance, perception and predictability over the past half century. There was a reason Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev had a sculpture of a goose on his Kremlin desk, a reminder that such a flock once set off his nation’s early alarm system. It is that system, manned by lieutenant colonel level officers who must make quick decisions on credible threats before passing them up the powerchain, that has flirted with catastrophe on a scale where Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mere drops in the bucket. Mutually Assured Destruction never became the epic chain reaction because with Soviet, then Russian Federation, and American leadership, there was a level of predictability following the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. So it was with significant and general alarm this past week when President-elect Donald Trump announced via Twitter that he thinks a nuclear arms race is a good idea. 
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - In the autumn of 2015, Indiana Republican National Committeeman John Hammond III was the first to broach the idea that Americans were open to electing a “strongman” as president, the observation coming as Donald Trump was rising in the polls. Voters were yearning for an American version of Vladimir Putin. Why? America is becoming browner, older, while the workforce with a huge emphasis of “shareholder profits” is moving toward an era that will not sustain the middle class as we know it. A 2013 Oxford University study shows that some 47 percent of American jobs could be lost due to artificial intelligence and automation. Say goodbye to the branch bank and the grocery checkout clerk. A 2016 study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that 9 percent of jobs would be completely displaced in the next two decades. These are seeds for political unrest on a scale far, far beyond 2016.

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – Back in March, when most couldn’t fathom the notion of “President-elect Trump,” I wrote a column comparing the Manhattan mogul to Phineas Taylor Barnum. The Indiana presidential primary was just taking shape but I could sense his potential for a Republican nomination. Comparing Trump to P.T. Barnum was because the two, separated by more than a century in time, had a unique love for “the show.” Wikipedia describes Barnum as an “American politician, showman, and businessman remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus. He once said, “I am a showman by profession ... and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.” Trump loves the show too. He doesn’t read books and is not interested in intelligence briefings. He gets his news from “the shows” and he loves beauty pageants and starred in his own show, “The Apprentice” with the famous line, “You’re fired!” He turned the 2016 election cycle into the most sensational reality show in history, ending with a stunning presidential upset on Nov. 8. It promises to get exponentially impactful as he brews an administration. On Dec. 1, he and Vice President-elect Mike Pence brought this “show” to Indianapolis to save Carrier jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - For 50 years, from 1963 to 2013, there was either a Bayh or a Lugar representing Indiana in the U.S. Senate. Birch and Evan Bayh won five elections, while Dick Lugar lost a 1974 showdown with the elder Bayh, then rattled off six victories. All told, these two dynasties accrued close to 15 million votes. A good part of their combined successes were prodigious political and state organizations that raised the bucks, stroked allies as well as the media, and dealt swift retribution for anyone who got out of line. There was an obsession for detail. I remember as a political reporter for the Elkhart Truth in 1988 when Evan Bayh was running for governor, my phone rang and there was Bayh’s campaign manager, Joe Hogsett, on the line. “How ya doing’?” he asked. “What are you working on. Anything I can help you with as far as our campaign goes?” The political careers of the two Bayhs and Lugar, all once invincible, ended in defeat.

  • BEAN BLOSSOM, Ind. - Here’s a holiday trivia quiz: Name a Hoosier running for executive office who didn’t poll a majority of the popular vote even though this person won both times. That would be Vice President-elect Mike Pence.  The Donald Trump/Mike Pence ticket now trails Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 2 million votes out of 126.4 million cast. In 2012, the governor won with just 49 percent of the vote here in Indiana in a three-way gubernatorial race. To the victor go the spoils, as the old saying goes. But simply winning an election doesn’t mean a mandate. Grasping the helm of a roiled nation requires a different type of leadership. What happened to Gov. Pence after his 2012 win is instructive. He governed in mandate style, signing several pieces of socially divisive legislation like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, while polls showed public sentiment going in the opposite direction. In the four polls conducted this cycle by WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana, we found Gov. Pence to be one of the most polarizing figures in modern Hoosier politics.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – “Do you want to see something really cool?” Sure. I was with Liz Murphy, an aide to Vice President Dan Quayle and we were in his ornate office at the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. We walked into an office similar in size and scope to the Indiana governor’s office at the Statehouse. We ended up before an antique colonial revival-style double-pedestal desk Theodore Roosevelt brought to the White House in 1903. It was one of six desks to once occupy the Oval Office. Murphy pulled open the desk drawer, which was empty, save for the signatures of vice presidents. There were Nixon’s, Truman’s, George H.W. Bush, and of course Dan Quayle. I looked for Thomas R. Marshall’s, but the signature tradition didn’t begin until the 1940s. Marshall served as Indiana governor a century before Mike Pence took over his old second floor Statehouse office.
  • ATLANTA - We Hoosiers here in our bicentennial year have lived at the center of the political universe. So many fates and futures passed through the crossroads of America that Donald Trump even called us “Importantville” on the eve of our May 3 primary. It revealed the double edged blade to Trump in what has essentially become a “post-truth election.” He clasped our better angels, saying, “Now Indiana is becoming very important .. .you folks belong where you belong; it's called Importantville right? I love it.” The following morning, he was accusing Sen. Ted Cruz’s father of complicity in the assassination of President Kennedy.  Gov. Mike Pence endorsed, campaigned and even snapped my photo with Sen. Ted Cruz at the Republican Spring Dinner. It earned him a Twitter swipe from Trump. By late summer, Pence had shunned Indiana media. Trump would go on to clinch the Republican presidential nomination in Indiana after he had been exhorted to victory by our sports pantheon of Bobby Knight, Gene Keady and Lou Holtz. He would find his vice president, Mike Pence, here, though it appears that  our governor, fearing a reelection defeat to John Gregg, literally flew out to New Jersey in mid-July to box the nominee into that decision.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Anthony Weiner, meet Rex Early, who will not be your sexting partner. But the joke’s on you. The explosive saga of 650,000 emails on Weiner’s laptop, including some apparently between Hillary Clinton and top aide Huma Abedin was a gift for Early, who chairs the Donald Trump Indiana presidential campaign. Last Friday, FBI Director James Comey alerted the world to the Weiner trove, even if it was ambiguous in its meaning and content. Early, the legendary Hoosier jokester, can hardly contain himself. “What concerns me is we might have lost that Weiner voter,” Early cracked. HPI responded that perhaps a trip to Fort Wayne’s Coney Island Weiner Stand or, perhaps, Mr. Weenie in Peru might be in order. Clearly, Rex Early’s buns are not steamed. For Early, it translates into momentum, a message that Gov. Mike Pence has been enunciating as he crisscrosses the nation.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - Hoosier voters face not only a compelling vote for president that will have a national impact, but their decision on who becomes the next U.S. senator could determine which party controls that chamber. The choice between Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Young merits considerable thought. Bayh is the former two-term governor and senator who, along with Mitch Daniels, has done more than just about anyone else to shape the modern political contours of our state. He opened his political career in Indiana with the sting of defeat, managing his father’s last Senate campaign for this very seat. It was a two-term congressman, Dan Quayle, who ended Birch Bayh’s political career in the Reagan revolution year of 1980. Evan Bayh emerged four years later as secretary of state, then commenced a 16-year Democratic dominance in the governor’s office by defeating Lt. Gov. John Mutz in 1988.

  • MERRILLVILLE – Last Friday night, Gov. Mike Pence’s excellent adventure brought him to Tony Packo’s, a legendary Toledo restautant. His campaign team had promised the traveling press (Pence no longer talks to Indiana media) a photo op with a hotdog bun autographed by his running mate, Donald Trump. And then . . .  breaking news! A 2005 video of Trump in lewd locker room banter with Billy Bush on a Access Hollywood outtake broke. Trump talked about making sexual advances on married women and grabbing them by their genitals. And there was this line: “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.” While just about everyone else saw this kind of story coming, Pence was shell-shocked in Toledo. Multiple sources described him as under siege. After he issued a terse statement saying he couldn’t “condone” or “defend” Trump’s remarks, the speculation was he would drop off the ticket. By Saturday he was back on the campaign trail. On Sunday, Trump threw him under the bus in his second debate with Hillary Clinton. Asked about Pence’s own debate comments on the potential use of U.S. military force in Syria, Trump icily responded, “He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – While the pundits, the intelligentsia and the establishment as we’ve known it for years are grappling with the rise of Donald Trump, trying to make sense of it all, a significant swath of the people know. They see a world changing, where the Caucasian race steadily slips into minority status. Where people of different sexual persuasions unite and seek mainstream treatment. Where mixed race marriages are increasing. Where a troubled world full of jihadists and suicide bombers, hackers and cyber thieves invade their public spaces and their personal bank accounts, creating a world they perceive as increasingly unstable and inherently risky. So when Gov. Mike Pence decides to ban Syrian refugees from resettling in his state, the pundits like myself and the intelligentsia object, but there are few cries from the public. The issue, Democratic sources tell me, polls well for the ban. It prompted 7th Circuit Appellate Judge Richard Posner to write in his decision maintaining a lower court injunction on the Pence order, “The governor of Indiana believes, though without evidence, that some of these persons were sent to Syria by ISIS to engage in terrorism and now wish to infiltrate the United States in order to commit terrorist acts here. No evidence of this belief has been presented, however; it is nightmare speculation.”
        
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Evan Bayh has a problem. The $10 Million Man thought he could do an end around Hoosier voters, evade a primary election, grab a U.S. Senate nomination in July for a seat he refused to defend in 2010, then traipse back to Washington where he could sleep in his own bed every night. Instead, he is in a pure dog fight with Republican Todd Young, who has already knocked off two congressmen (former Rep. Mike Sodrel in the 2010 Republican primary, then Rep. Baron Hill that November). This Senate race, which is already nearing the $25 million mark in money, is playing out in perhaps the most unlikely place in the state: East Chicago. As Donald Trump might put it, Steeltown has become “Importantville.” The reason is that last May, the EPA informed about 1,100 residents in the West Calumet Housing Complex that they and their 700 children were living on land severely contaminated by lead and arsenic left behind by a now defunct USS Lead factory. It should have been no secret. The Associated Press reported that in 1985, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management found elevated lead levels in the soil and the Indiana Department of Health found high levels of lead in the blood of children. A 2008 EPA memo described the tract as "an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health, welfare and the environment."
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - A couple of decades ago, I had a chance to see and hear jazz great Dave Brubeck play the Elco Theater in downtown Elkhart. It was a mesmerizing concert. At one point, Brubeck sat his piano in the spotlight and began a cadence, “The Peace of Jerusalem, the Peace of Jerusalem,” tapping his foot and clicking his fingers. His quartet picked up on the reponsorial and it sent great joy through the crowd. After the concert, many of us crossed Main Street to Flytrap’s, a downtown restaurant, and as we sipped cocktails and awaited dinner, I could see a entourage cross the street. The door swung open, and there was Brubeck himself adorned in a great coat. There was a pregnant pause, one of almost disbelief, and this was followed by an emotional, rousing standing ovation. A great man was in our midst. It was a spectacular display of the art of leadership: The broaching of a grand concept and then its articulation through a cultural media, hitting a chord with those who listened. Politics is quite a different genre, I bring this up as Hoosiers and Americans prepare for one of the most fascinating, and potentially consequential two weeks in the early years of the 21st Century. On Monday, presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will meet for the first of three debates, and the stakes are utterly epic. As Clinton put it earlier this week, “The next 50 days will determine the next 50 years.”

  • INDIANAPOLIS - Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Gov. Mike Pence is still being paid by Indiana’s hard working taxpayers even while on his excellent, vice presidential adventure. But Mike Pence is no longer acting like an Indiana governor. Since he was officially selected by Donald Trump on July 16, he’s gone national. He’s come back to Indiana to ride his motorcycle with ABATE, he opened the Indiana State Fair, he’s had several cabinet meetings, campaigned with Eric Holcomb in Columbus, opened a Trump campaign office in Carmel and hosted Trump fundraisers in Evansville and Indianapolis. At none of these events was he willing to field media questions. He hasn’t taken live questions from the media since the vice presidential speculation was growing in early July, with the exception of one interview with WTHR-TV’s Kevin Rader where a seat on his jet cost thousands of dollars. On the public policy front, it’s been June since he took questions. Pence didn’t meet with the press when he accepted his second gubernatorial nomination in early June. During the Republican National Convention, Pence didn’t have time to stop by the Hoosier delegation’s hotel in Cleveland to rub shoulders with the faithful. On the day after his acceptance speech, he spent about 20 minutes with the delegation at a country club, and then he was gone.

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  • Sen. Lanane warns of HIP 2.0 trigger and the Obamacare repeal
    “HIP 2.0 is a critical piece of public health policy for the state, and it is being put at risk under the Republican healthcare plan due to a ‘trigger’ in our state law. We are here today to urge our Republican colleagues in the Statehouse to remove this trigger, and work to safeguard Hoosiers’ health care coverage should the AHCA become law. HIP 2.0 health coverage is put at risk due to Indiana law automatically triggering a repeal of HIP 2.0 should federal funding be reduced. Without the enhanced federal matching funds for HIP 2.0, Indiana would have to allocate an extra $500 million per year in state funding to maintain the current program.” - Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, on the Obamacare repeal and a potential reduction of Medicaid funding that is part of the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0. Some 430,000 Hoosiers get health coverage through HIP 2.0.
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  • Trump and truth
    The Obamacare repeal is teetering in the House. Why? Remember the old story of the boy who cried wolf? President Trump’s penchant for lies is beginning to take such a toll that NBC reporter Kasie Hunt said this morning that some members wonder if he’ll even be around in a year. So when Trump threatened retribution against recalcitrant House members on Tuesday, its impact was dubious. The Wall Street Journal editorialized today: “If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. The latest example is Mr. Trump’s refusal to back off his Saturday morning tweet of three weeks ago.” The other emerging dynamic is that the Pence/Marc Short legislative team hasn’t done the legwork on the RyanCare bill. It could all come down to Vice President Pence, HHS Secretary Tom Price and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to round up about eight votes and keep Republicans like Rep. Hollingsworth in the fold. - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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