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Saturday, September 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.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – If I’m gonna go to the Amazon, I’m going to pack and pack tight, take a first aid kit, mosquito netting, a hammock, a Sears poncho, rations, trail mix, potable water and . . . cold beer. As the General Assembly’s Alcohol Code Revision Commission met last Monday, mayors from Indianapolis and Fishers, along with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, were dreaming of Amazon’s HQ2, a $5 billion, 50,000 employee, high-wage gem. Analysis from the New York Times and others place Indiana in the mix along with dozens of other cities until “quality of life” and “mass transit” come into play. With this plum capturing site selector fantasy, Indiana is plunging into a debate about where carryout cold beer can be sold and whether it should be available on Sundays beyond Big Woods, Upland, Mad Anthony and dozens of other craft breweries springing up across the state. In 49 other states and the District of Columbia, the temperature of beer sales is unregulated. Indiana is the only state that bans retail beer, wine and liquor sales on Sundays.
        
  • INDIANAPOLIS – President Trump has promised “fire and fury” for his North Korean counterpart, the dictator Kim Jong Un. Last week, Trump tweeted, “Talking is not the answer.” On Sunday, Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, standing with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford on the White House driveway after meeting with President Trump and Vice President Pence, reacted to the North Korean detonation of a hydrogen bomb that measured 6.3 on the USGS Richter scale and just weeks after it lobbed a missile over Japan. “We have many military options, and the president wanted to be briefed on each one of them,” said Mattis. “Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies, will be met with a massive military response – a response both effective and overwhelming.”  The war drums are now fully beating. Perhaps it’s time to channel our inner Andy. By this, I mean the late U.S. Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr., author of the non-bestselling book “The 1600 Killers,” describing the war actions of the 20th Century’s last 10 presidents. As a young congressman in the mid-1960s, he defied President Lyndon Johnson, becoming an early critic of the Vietnam War. Jacobs had a relevant historical viewpoint. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps because he believed the snazzy dress uniform would attract the babes. He ended up in the Korean War.  His perspective, that it’s Congress that has the authority to declare war and not the president, came from a man who once found himself hauling off wounded Marines in a classic fog-of-war moment, staring down the guns of Chinese infantry, who inexplicably allowed him to live.
        
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In the two decades before and after the 20th Century commenced, there was a concerted effort to remember the Lost Cause or the War Between the States from the Southern perspective. The Daughters of the Confederacy funded, forged and erected more than a thousand statues honoring President Jefferson Davis, Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, along with dozens of others.  It extends beyond monuments, with several U.S. Army bases (Benning, Bragg, Beauregard, Gordon, Hood, A.P. Hill, Pickett and Lee among them) named for Confederate generals. Another 12 Confederate figures are in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, compared to just four civil rights leaders (Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Sojourner Truth). On the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, there are monuments to Lee, and Gens. James Longstreet and A.P. Hill, as well as those representing the 14 Confederate states.
        
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - We had been the Hoosier State. The Crossroads of America, heart of the corn belt and the center of the basketball universe. Three years ago, we became something sinister. It was “Indiana: The Methamphetamine State!” The statistics were appalling. According to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, between 2013 and 2015 Indiana had dismantled 4,477 meth labs, and rescued 1,104 children living in meth lab environments. Over the corresponding time period, Indiana had seen a 32 percent increase in homicides, 26 percent increase in abuse and neglect reports to the Department of Child Services, a 90 percent increase in misdemeanor theft.  The collateral damage was appalling. In addition to the abused kids, first responders like cops, firefighters and code enforcers suffered chemical injuries in meth labs. Mayors were seeing dozens of homes and hotel rooms contaminated by the insidious chemical taint that comes with clandestine meth production. There was inertia at the Statehouse as governors and legislative leaders were slow to move, some fearing the wrath and political contributions from the home health consumer products industry. There were others, like prosecutors Dustin Houchin of Washington County, Mike Steiner of Martin County, Jeffrey Arnold in Delaware County and Vanderburgh County’s Nick Hermann, Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel, Kendallville Police Chief Rob Wiley and a several legislators - most notably State Rep. Ben Smaltz of Auburn, State Sen. Randy Head of Logansport and House Speaker Brian Bosma - who had had enough.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – On Aug. 6, 1945, President Harry S Truman, a mostly unknown political figure, commander in chief for just less than five months, and widely seen as a novice, made a stunning announcement: “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.” On Tuesday, President Trump, widely seen as a novice on all things military and diplomatic, reacted to a report that North Korea had attained a miniaturized nuclear warhead with arms folded and clenched to his torso, saying, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  It was a chilling moment, underscoring comments U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young made to me earlier this summer that Americans need to wrap their heads around the notion that we may be at war – nuclear war – in a matter of months. Perhaps it’s just weeks or days now.
        
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - There were two burning questions for Republican Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson: Did Russian government entities or hackers compromise the state’s election system? And does she believe the 2016 election results are accurate? Lawson did not hedge in her responses. “Indiana did not get hacked,” she said flatly. Her office was informed by the FBI late last summer that at least two states had their systems entered, and dozens of states were probed. “We examined 15,500,000 logins from the 92 county clerks’ offices. They were processing candidate filings, absentee ballot requests and petition signatures and all the things that counties do. So we were fine. Those IP addresses had not touched Indiana’s system.” While there have been an array of news reports saying that anywhere from 21 to 30 states had their election systems probed, Lawson explained, “Not one secretary has been notified that their system was endangered in any way. Our systems are scanned multiple times a day, thousands of times a week. Some are by nefarious actors, some just curious who want to rattle the door knobs to see if any doors have been left open. We continue to work with our technology staff to make sure we haven’t left any doors open.”
     
  • FREMONT, Ind. - Can you hear the Gipper’s voice from the wayback machine? “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” It was former California Republican Chairman Gaylord Parkinson who coined the phrase, and it became President Reagan’s mantra. What we’re seeing on an almost hourly basis, from the emerging Indiana U.S. Senate primary between U.S. Reps. Todd Rokita, Luke Messer to the White House, is a complete abrogation of the concept. The Grand Old Party and its “big tent” are being replaced with virulent fratricide. Messer announced this past Wednesday he would enter the Senate race and pose a challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly next year. It came after weeks of needling by Rokita, who conducted a whisper campaign against Messer that he actually lives in an affluent Washington suburb, and took aim his wife’s lucrative legal work for the city of Fishers where she makes about $20,000 a month. The rumor mill spun that Messer might skip the race to stay on a House leadership track where he is fifth in ranking. There was an IndyStar story about how Rokita’s line of attack against Messer had been edited into the latter’s Wikipedia page.

  • KOKOMO – There was President Trump, author of the “Art of the Deal,” dining with Vice President Mike Pence and Republican senators at the White House Monday night. He complained about the grind of the health care reforms, reaffirming his winter quote that “no one knew how tough” such a process could be. He trashed Sen. Rand Paul for his opposition. Pence had spent the previous weekend arm twisting 49 of the nation’s stone-faced governors in Providence (Gov. Eric Holcomb wasn’t there) on the Senate bill, simultaneously discrediting Congressional Budget Office estimates and using other CBO data to make his case. The governors were presented with an Avalere Health study that revealed Indiana’s Medicaid program would lose $4.9 billion in the next nine years, and $36.5 billion - or 32 percent - by 2036. And the Wall Street Journal reported on a CBO estimate of the Senate bill impacts: 32 million Americans would lose coverage, and while the federal deficit would decrease $473 billion, insurance premiums would double by 2026. Saturday night, Pence would intone with one of his “let me be clear” intros that is often followed by fallacy: “We’re on the verge of a historic accomplishment here in our nation’s capital. Because in the coming days, President Trump, working with the Congress that you helped elect, is going to keep our promise to the American people, and we are going to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – U.S. Sen. Todd Young is a former Navy intelligence officer, an intellect in the tradition of Richard Lugar, and a pragmatist. So when he conjures the notion of a potential nuclear war, perhaps just months or weeks away, it makes one sit up straight. The war drums are beating within the administration, with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly saying “all options are on the table” when it comes to the rogue North Korean regime of dictator Kim Jong Un. At the G-20 summit last week, Trump promised something “pretty severe” after North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile. Trump promises a paradigm shift, and Kim keeps thumbing his nose and lobbing off missiles. “This is an issue that in the coming months could come to a head and the American people need to understand that,” Young said. Essentially, we have two leaders who are confronting each other and neither wants to lose face.

  • RICHMOND -  Gov. Eric Holcomb was riding shotgun in his black state-owned Chevy Tahoe Wednesday afternoon downtown when a pickup truck pulled up beside him at a stoplight. We looked over and the man give him an emphatic thumbs-up. My immediate question for evolving political realities: Has anyone flipped you off? “Not yet,” said Holcomb, though he’s realistic enough to believe that it’s only a matter of time. The affirmation continued in a downtown Richmond McDonald’s, the rookie governor’s fast-food stop of choice. A small parade of folks came over the say hello. One was a Brink’s armored truck guard. Others were just regular joes who wanted to say, “You’re doing a great job.”  Eighteen months ago, the first Republican state chairman to be elected governor was a relatively obscure former staffer to former U.S. Rep. John Hostettler, Gov. Mitch Daniels and Sen. Dan Coats. He pursued a U.S. Senate nomination in 2015 and 2016, then was given a more conspicuous station when then-Gov. Mike Pence chose him to replace Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann in February 2016. Six months later, with Pence joining the Donald Trump presidential ticket, Holcomb won a 12-day, 22-vote state committee caucus for the gubernatorial nomination, then waged a 106-day, $7 million campaign in which he saddled on to the Trump/Pence wave to a victory.

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – Freshman Republican U.S. Sen. Todd Young articulated this month what should be a no-brainer: The looming health care reform legislation should be a bipartisan effort. Young wrote to the 48 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, “If we are going to achieve lasting results, we need to reach bipartisan conclusions. I firmly believe the best solution possible can be reached by working together. As this debate advances, give me a call; I would be happy to grab a cup of coffee and hear your thoughts and ideas.” He found partial agreement with Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, who said on the Senate floor Monday, “Indiana and our country would be better off if we could work together to produce bipartisan legislation rather than a partisan bill drafted in secret and voted on without input or a single Senate hearing." Where Donnelly parts with Young is his belief that President Trump and congressional Republicans purposely blew up Obamacare instead of working over the past seven years to evolve the law.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Attending five Donald Trump campaign rallies in Indiana last year was to witness a fledgling political figure connect with Hoosiers just as Barack Obama had done eight years prior, or as Ronald Reagan did in 1976 and 1980, and Robert F. Kennedy did in 1968. All of these figures drew huge, enthusiastic crowds while igniting American dreams. Trump rallies were streams of consciousness in which he articulated the desires, grievances and hopes for the part of our state bearing witness to the withering of Main Street while Hillary Clinton earned $400,000 paychecks for Wall Street speeches. Just as President George W. Bush defeated John Kerry here in 2004 57-37%, Trump gathered and surfed a 19% plurality here that became the foundation to the greatest upset in presidential history. And with this victory, Trump established the premise for great hopes. He would go to Washington, attack and shatter the congressional inertia, drain the swamp, bring broader and cheaper health coverage to the masses, build great projects unlike we’ve seen since the space program and the interstate highway system, protect the borders, reform the tax code for the first time in a generation, and charge up a second century of American dominance. If you were to script the opening six months to a presidency, you couldn’t have found a more deflating scenario than what we’ve just witnessed. Care Act that passed by one vote in the House and faces an arduous path in the Senate.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - Several years ago I asked a farmer friend of mine in Decatur County if he was seeing the impacts of climate change. “More severe weather events,” he responded. Last month I visited friends at their Colorado cabin about 10,500 feet elevation between Keystone and A-Basin and queried whether they’ve noticed change. “We can grow stuff up here these day,” he said. “We used to never be able to grow anything.” David George Haskell, a professor of biology at the University of the South, notes, “In the latter half of the 20th century, the spring emergence of leaves, frogs, birds and flowers advanced in the Northern Hemisphere by 2.8 days per decade. I’m nearly 50, so springtime has moved, on average, a full two weeks since I was born.” On Thursday, President Trump and Vice President Pence announced in the Rose Garden to announce that the United States will pull out of the Paris climate accords, signed by more than 175 nations. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump said. “As of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.” The president cast his decision as a “reassertion of America’s sovereignty,” arguing that the climate pact as negotiated under President Barack Obama was grossly unfair to the U.S. workers."

  • INDIANAPOLIS - O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive! That was Scottish novelist Walter Scott with his 1808 poem “Marmion,” not to be mistaken for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who, on the morning of the 2016 Indiana presidential primary, fumed at an Evansville press conference, “I’m gonna tell you what I really think of Donald Trump: This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth, and in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.” Now, why would Sen. Cruz say such a thing about the future president of the United States? Because earlier that morning on Fox News, citing a discredited National Enquirer report, candidate Trump had linked the senator’s father, Rev. Rafael, to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I’ll let Trump tell it: “His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being – you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” Trump said on Fox News early election morning. “What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It’s horrible.”

  • INDIANAPOLIS - In the eyes of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the emerging scandal of Russian collusion with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the sprawling investigations peeling off in its wake are as much of a wakeup call as, perhaps, the Russian Revolution that transpired a century ago. “If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it,” Clapper testified before Congress on May 8. In President Trump’s view, the probes are “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Trump’s outrage at the Russia probe, which challenges the legitimacy of his stunning upset last November, prompted him to impulsively fire FBI Director James Comey last week. Trump told NBC: "When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said 'you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won'."

  • BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - The storm clouds of scandal that had gathered over President Nixon in 1973 appeared to have reached a climax when Vice President Spiro Agnew abruptly resigned, pleading “nolo contendere” to taking bribes as a public servant in Maryland. Leading that investigation had been Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckleshaus. When Agnew resigned, Ruckleshaus, a former state senator from Indianapolis and the 1968 Republican U.S. Senate nominee, headed to Grand Rapids to launch a background check into the newly nominated vice president, U.S. Rep. Gerald Ford. In an interview with C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, Ruckleshaus related that Attorney General Eliot Richardson told him, “We've got an even worse problem than the vice president. “That’s not possible,” Ruckleshaus reacted. Richardson responded, “Yes, it is. The White House seems determined to fire Archibald Cox.’” Cox was the Watergate special prosecutor investigating President Nixon. “And I remember saying, ‘Don't worry about it. They'll never do that. There would be too much of a public furor if they tried.’”

  • GOLDEN, Colo. – How is President Donald Trump doing at this early point? While his national approval has consistently hovered between 35 and 42 percent, Trump’s base is still on board. A University of Virginia Center for Politics poll of Trump voters shows his approval rating at 93 percent. Trump won the Indiana primary with 53 percent of the vote and had a 19 percent plurality last November. In tandem with Vice President Mike Pence, Trump remains strong in Indiana. U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R- Shelbyville, explained, “Back home people are excited by Trump’s leadership, they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and they are waiting to see the results from his promises. They are excited by many of the executive orders that have already come. They almost like the way he’s sparring with the media.” U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Brownsburg, who will likely face a 2018 U.S. Senate race showdown with Messer, adds, “I am all in for President Trump. He has connected to the forgotten man. The Republicans are the party of the working man. We can’t forget that.” I heard this over and over again from Hoosiers last year: Trump “tells it like it is.”

  • INDIANAPOLIS – The gold standards of first General Assembly success for a modern Hoosier rookie governor must be measured against the years 1973, 1981, 1989, 1997, 2005 and 2013. Mining down into that history, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s first foray stacks up well against Gov. Doc Bowen’s tax reforms, Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s Conseco Fieldhouse deal and workers’ compensation reform, and Gov. Mitch Daniels passing Daylight Saving Time along with the creation of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and Northwest Indiana’s Regional Development Authority. Holcomb had two Republican super majorities to work with, allowing him to opt into some of the groundwork already forged on his 20-year road and infrastructure plan that had been championed by Speaker Brian Bosma and House Transportation Chairman Ed Soliday last year. Signed into law by Holcomb on Thursday, HEA 1002 will provide $900 million in new annual funding for state roads by 2024 and sees a $300 million increase for local roads during that time span. By year 20 of the plan, investment for state roads will come out to average $1.2 billion, with $775 million for local roads each year.
  • 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 – If there’s been a curve ball in this waning session of the General Assembly, it’s been the Ricker’s cold beer controversy. And if key players aren’t careful, this could signal a populist uprising in the age of Amazon, Trump and the anti-regulation fervor that has swept Indiana and the nation. There is significant danger for the package liquor store industry and their lobby. As they attempt to defend the status quo, they risk an array of collateral damage. For instance, their attempts to thwart Ricker’s in their legally obtained licenses at two stores in Columbus and Sheridan, they took aim at the Indiana Alcohol Tobacco Commission, and drew in Gov. Eric Holcomb, who up until this past month had been “laser focused” on his five-point agenda that didn’t include cold beer. Instead, he stepped in to defend the conduct of this commission. It created headlines over the past month and drew populist sentiments. Look no further than state Senate candidate Gary Snyder, who will challenge freshman Sen. Andy Zay, when he posted on Facebook, “As your next state senator, I will not vote to regulate the temperature of the beer you buy or what days you can buy it.” That could be the beginning of a 2018 cycle trend as Democrats attempt to claw back into relevance.
        
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  • Pence presses Donnelly on tax reform as McCain scuttles health bill
    "We will make America safe again. We will make America prosperous again. And to borrow a phrase, we will make America great again." - Vice President Mike Pence, appearing in Anderson to push President Trump’s tax reform plan. Pence made a pitch to Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, who attended the speech, saying, "Senator Joe Donnelly we need your help." Pence’s appearance came as U.S. Sen. John McCain announced he will vote against the Graham/Cassidy health care bill, saying, “I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried.” Pence had been lobbying Senate Republicans to support the plan, which is now opposed by McCain and Sen. Rand Paul, with Sen. Susan Collins likely to vote against the measure.
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  • Mike and Hillary
    We’ve watched 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton make the rounds on her new book: “What Happened.” The reaction has been cringes from Democrats hoping to move on, a set-the-record mentality from some journalistic quarters, and taunts from Republicans. Vice President Pence has the best line of all, with this tweet Thursday morning: “The first book that has the question and the answer on the cover.” Good line, Mike, er … Mr. Vice President. It harkens back to those studio days near the Speedway and a retreat to Claude & Annies. - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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