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Wednesday, July 26, 2017
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Wednesday, July 31, 2013 3:35 PM
LOGANSPORT - It is more than slightly ironic that the Indiana State Board of Education is hiring its own consultant to do what it could be doing collaboratively with its state school superintendent – improve education.

It would be nice if board members and a state school superintendent from different parties could be on the same page when it comes to the importance of education in this state, but state education reform has become so politicized that politics takes priority. The irony of the current Tony Bennett controversy involving a grade change for Christel House, the charter school funded by one of Bennett’s biggest campaign contributors, represents one of the worst kinds of academic fraud there is. Forget the NCAA hammering some college for giving a football player a D- in a math class he should have failed. What Bennett and his staff did for Christel House pales in comparison. He violated a public trust for the sake of a private school run by a campaign contributor.

Think about this for a minute: If the Indiana State Board of Education had really been holding Bennett accountable like it is holding Glenda Ritz accountable now, the Christel House controversy may never have happened in the first place. But the board didn’t.
  • 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.”

  • KOKOMO – Single payer health care is on its way, as inevitable as the rising sun. Through the cumulative effects of Democratic scheming, Republican incompetence and the ignorance of the American people, we stand on the brink of the final dismemberment of the greatest health care system in the world. Soon we will enter a world of rationed medical care, medical treatment by committee and true equality of health care, where the only equality of care will be that no one will receive quality care. Call me a pessimist, but I have seen this train wreck coming for several years, at least since 1993. Since that time, health care has become an effective wedge issue for both political parties. Much as the issue of abortion has been used for political purposes since Roe v. Wade, access to universal affordable health care has become the football of choice for the game of divide and conquer played by Republicans and Democrats alike. Although the issue of socialized medicine dates back many decades, its latest incarnation began in earnest with the creation of the Clinton Health Care Task Force, in 1993. After campaigning for the need for universal health care during the 1992 presidential election, newly elected President Bill Clinton acted quickly in January, 1993, to appoint his wife Hillary to chair a task force to design a plan for universal care. Conservatives, Libertarians and the health care industry banded together to launch an all-out attack on Clinton’s plan. 
  • SOUTH BEND –  For Democrats to win control of the House next year – possible, though not yet probable – they must upset some Republicans entrenched in “safe” seats, such as Rep. Jackie Walorski in Indiana’s 2nd District. Walorski is targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But so are many other Republican incumbents, most of them in districts in which they appear to be more vulnerable than Walorski. She is regarded as “safe” in most national evaluations. And why not? She won a third term in 2016 by nearly 62,000 votes, carrying nine of the 10 counties in the district and just barely losing in St. Joseph County, supposed bastion of Democratic strength. Walorski, however, is a target because of other past elections. She lost in her first race for Congress in 2010 to Joe Donnelly, who then was the incumbent congressman, and won in a squeaker for a first term in 2012 in a race with Brendan Mullen. Polls showed high negative perceptions of her back then.
  • MERRILLVILLE – It’s becoming clear that President Donald Trump doesn’t like former President Barack Obama. It’s not a political thing. It’s personal. And it’s driving Trump – and to a lesser extent, Vice President Mike Pence – up a wall. And, yes, the springboard is the Affordable Care Act, which is better known as Obamacare. I think it’s a jealousy thing. Obama twice won the popular vote while Trump didn’t in his one try. Trump started the birther movement, contending Obama wasn’t born in the United States. And Trump never let go of the issue. And Trump was offended when Obama said he wasn’t mentally fit to be president. And virtually anytime something goes wrong, Trump blames it on Obama. What really eats at Trump is Obamacare. The repeal and replace of Obamacare was at the heart of Trump’s campaign. I’m not terribly sure why, given what people are saying today. Last November, just before being elected, Trump said, “My poll numbers are going through the roof. Part (of the reason) is Obamacare.”
  • BLOOMINGTON – A lot of people want what I do from the media and feel they’re not getting it: More facts and fewer opinions; more investigative reporters and fewer pundits; more substance and less fluff; more policy exploration and less politics.  I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to journalism, I’m a traditionalist. Old-fashioned, even. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that even while confidence in the media drops to new lows and Time magazine feels moved to wonder “Is Truth Dead?” on its cover, huge numbers of Americans have come to believe the media is not as authoritative as it once was. Straightforward, responsible journalism is an indispensable public asset, a cornerstone of democratic life. This is threatened by the trends reshaping the media landscape. With less consensus around information and data, the cohesiveness of our society is diminished.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Pristina Plowmouth objected to last week’s column in this space. That contribution to social and economic awareness focused on the growing phenomenon of people living alone. “Disheartening,” she said, calling from her estate in Hamilton County. “People living alone are the tragic residue of society’s dissolution. It is the inevitable consequence of delayed marriage, divorce, inappropriate abortion, excessive consumption from bloated incomes, an unfortunate, yet foreseeable outcome, of misguided female emancipation, disregard of traditional generational integration, and blind obsession with personal gratification above familial obligation.” “Thank you,” was all I could reply. “You’ll delight in this week’s offering about unmarried couples living together.” “Where did you obtain such scandalous statistics?” she huffed. “Please, abstain from asking me to give credence to dirty data.” “Don’t you want to know how many such households are in Hamilton County?” I asked and answered before she could reply. “There were over 4,600 unmarried-partner households with opposite sex couples in your county in 2015 according to the Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey. That’s just 4.1 percent of all households in the county.
  • 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.

  • WASHINGTON – President Donald J. Trump’s America First approach to international relations and world leadership probably would have resonated with the late Jim Jontz. Jontz, a former Democratic Hoosier congressman, ran against then-Sen. Richard Lugar in the 1994 election. At the time, I was Lugar’s deputy press secretary and often had to help respond to Jontz’s favorite attack: Painting Lugar as someone who cared more about Peru, the country, than Peru, Ind. Or Brazil, the country, more than Brazil, Ind. Jontz ran radio and TV commercials depicting him visiting such Hoosier small towns in a red pick-up truck and asking rhetorically when Lugar had last been there. The ads turned out to be ineffective because Lugar was a regular presence in Indiana. But Jontz had the advantage of just being flip and trying to make people laugh. The bigger challenge fell to Lugar, who explained how his leadership on foreign, security and agricultural policy led to a stronger and more prosperous United States in which Hoosier workers and farmers in Peru and Brazil – the Indiana versions – could thrive. But 23 years after Hoosiers embraced Lugar’s internationalist views and sent him back to Washington in a landslide, Jontz’s rhetoric is being revived by Trump.
  • SOUTH BEND – Mayor Pete Buttigieg seeks a stronger voice in national politics with the launch of a PAC to help local and state candidates around the nation to deliver a winning Democratic message. The mayor gained favorable recognition with his impressive bid for Democratic national chairman. He appears on network TV and is called on for major speeches. One is in Iowa, that first-in-the-nation caucus state. But Pete needs a different approach if he is to have real national impact. He needs a modern Twitter approach. Look what that has done for President Trump. Oh, sure, Pete has a Twitter account. But it’s not like Trump’s. Mayor Pete tweets politely about nice things in South Bend, promoting the city. Too nice.
  • MERRILLVILLE – I really had to chuckle when President Donald Trump’s vote fraud commission asked Indiana to expose just about everything there is to know about those who vote in this state. First of all, anytime I hear Trump talking about vote fraud, it makes me laugh. Because Trump is such an egomaniac, he just can’t accept the fact that he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump has said several times that if the votes illegally cast for Clinton were thrown out, he would have won the popular vote. Trump is talking about up to 5 million illegal votes having been cast for Clinton. Trump, of course, hasn’t provided the first shred of evidence. So, Trump has launched an illegal voter witch hunt and put – of all people – former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the vice president, in charge. So, what happened when the national vote commission turned its attention to Indiana? I guess you could say Pence and company got a rude reception. And Pence should have known what was coming. Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a fellow Republican, pretty much told the vote commission to take a hike.
  • KOKOMO – The economy in Indiana is very close to reaching crisis levels. No, this isn’t the kind of crisis that comes from a decline in business revenues and the resulting unemployment. This is a crisis born of success. The evidence of this impending crisis is everywhere. You just can’t go anywhere, from the Ohio River to the St. Joseph River, and not see signs of big problems ahead for the Hoosier State. These are not figurative signs of crisis. They are literal signs that our 12 years of consistent economic success are in jeopardy. These are the ubiquitous “Help Wanted” signs in just about every storefront, restaurant, healthcare and manufacturing business in our great state. Collectively, government and the private sector have experience dealing with declining revenues and rising unemployment. We’ve had a lot of practice over the past hundred years dealing with this cyclical malady. However, we’ve rarely seen a time, with the exception of times of war, when the success of some businesses and industry is in doubt due to a shortage of employees. Many in the public sector and in government would tell you that this is a great problem to have and, to a point, it is. However, there are forces at work that make our current employment crisis nearly unsustainable.
  • WASHINGTON – When Democrat Jill Long won an upset special election victory for Dan Quayle’s old House seat in the heavily Republican Fort Wayne area congressional district back in 1989, Lee Atwater, who was the newly installed chairman of the Republican National Committee, told the New York Times he was ashamed his party lost.  “She ran the kind of campaign I would have been proud of,” Atwater, the king of hardball politics, lamented. Atwater, who was fresh from masterminding George H.W. Bush’s presidential victory in 1988, could afford to shoulder the blame.  Much has changed in the world of congressional campaigns in the almost 30 years since that Indiana race. But there is still a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing after an election loss in a high profile race, as in the June 20 Georgia 6 special election. Party leaders should be apologetic when they lose a special election in a district drawn for their own candidates. Partisan make-up of a congressional district weighs heavily on the outcome. Republicans usually win special elections in Republican districts and Democrats usually win in Democratic districts.
  • 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.

  • FORT WAYNE – As kids, my sister Nancy and I sorted returnable pop bottles at our family’s general store for 35 cents a day. It may not seem like much, but I could purchase a box of baseball card packs for about $1.75, which is where my money went. My parents tried to lure me away from baseball obsession by offering to pay half of any non-fiction, non-sports books I purchased. Early business acumen led me toward history and political books. But our family was in the furniture business, not politics or baseball. So my dad decided to pay me a dollar for each motivational record I’d listen to.  Things like “Acres of Diamonds” and “Think and Grow Rich.” The real money bomb was an entire album of KISS talks: “Keep It Simple Stupid.” The U.S. Navy originated the phrase to stress that simplicity should be the goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. My dad had been a naval officer so obviously was attracted to the idea. Me, not so much. My good friend Steve Largent used to joke that if you asked Souder what time it was, he told you how they built the watch.
  • WEST LAFAYETTE – Think of the changes in the Indiana property tax system between 1998 and 2010. The Indiana Supreme Court threw out the assessment system in December 1998. We started using market values for the reassessment in 2003. In 2002, we changed the formula for calculating the maximum property tax levy, and created a huge deduction for homesteads. In 2004, we amended the Indiana Constitution to allow those big homestead deductions. In 2008, we increased them even more. We phased out the property tax on inventories from 2003 to 2007. We began annual adjustments of property assessments in 2007, which we call trending. We eliminated the property taxes for school general funds in 2009. We put property tax caps in the Constitution in November 2010. That’s a partial list. In the midst of all this policy chaos, we had the worst recession since the Great Depression, so bad that it reduced the value of property. Our new assessment system caught that decline in property values, so assessed value actually decreased for a couple of years. Practically every year for 12 years, policy changes or economic disruptions rocked Indiana’s property tax system. By the end of it all, we had no idea what “normal” looked like.
  • BLOOMINGTON – Using the debt ceiling as a means of reining in excessive spending has not worked. Our political efforts should go toward finding long-term solutions that restrain spending and boost tax revenue. Back when I was in Congress, I got a call from a constituent one day. I’d recently voted to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, and the man was more than irate. “Don’t you understand that we’ve got a serious spending and debt problem in this country?” he asked. “Why did you cast this idiotic vote?” He was right about the problem. But he was wrong about the vote. With Congress fast approaching another debt-ceiling vote and yet one more “fiscal cliff” drama taking shape, I’d like to explain why that is. If you ask members of Congress which regular vote they most dread, this one would probably top the list. It’s hard to explain to constituents why raising the debt ceiling is necessary, as indeed I had trouble explaining to my own constituent.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – My friends have differing views about the money governments give to individuals. Some think it is immoral for any government to give money to people; it weakens individual responsibility and the effort to care for oneself. Others believe such transfers are necessary to keep the underclass from revolting against established authority. Still others foresee economic collapse if low income consumers do not spend enough to sustain a vigorous business environment. On the high ground stand those affirming governments are our agents, fulfilling our moral responsibility to care for the poor, the infirm, and the disadvantaged. Every federal, state, and local transfer program has both its supporters, who feel the warmth of social benefits, and its detractors, who detect the evil whiff of social decay. The following facts will not change the fixed perceptions of my friends. Government transfers to individuals exceeded $2.6 trillion in 2015. Hoosiers had $53 billion or two percent of that total.
  • SOUTH BEND - The “mean” health care bill passed by House Republicans could be a key issue in the nationally important U.S. Senate race in Indiana next year. It will be if Sen. Joe Donnelly has anything to say about it. And Donnelly, the Democratic incumbent facing a very tough race, already is saying a lot about it, calling the plan not just mean, but disastrous. The House Republican plan could be a key issue in Indiana because Donnelly’s Republican opponent is likely to be a Hoosier congressman, either Todd Rokita, 4th District, or Luke Messer, 6th District. Both are angling for the GOP senatorial nomination. And both voted for and praised passage of the House health care bill. The description of the bill as “mean” comes now from President Donald Trump. But didn’t Trump pressure House Republicans, many skeptical about what was in the bill, to pass it anyway? Yes.
  • 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.
  • FORT WAYNE - Another special congressional election. Another Republican victory. More pained analysis from liberal commentators and Democrat analysts. What in the world is wrong with the stupid voters: don’t they understand that President Trump and the congressional Republicans are about to destroy the entire world?  If not by next week, at least don’t bank on being able to celebrate Labor Day. The initial “lessons learned” analysis of Karen Handel’s 5.2% victory by the national figures who don’t wish the Republicans well is very encouraging to conservatives and Republicans. The lessons the liberal Democrats have learned is, apparently, nothing whatsoever. 1) They wanted to reduce expectations, to stop taking victory laps before the people voted. But in the 6th CD of Georgia that was difficult. Money wasn’t the question. It was the most expensive congressional race in American history. Familiarity and name identification for the Democrat candidate was not the problem. So much for the money excuse. 2) Turnout wasn’t the problem. Special elections usually are low turnout affairs. Not this one. Furthermore, early voting occurred in extraordinary numbers. The Democrats were disappointed with the narrow margin among early voters for their candidate. They were supposed to have a huge enthusiasm edge. Whoops.

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  • Messer signals U.S. Senate candidacy on Facebook
    “We’re in! See you at the picnic on Aug. 12.” - U.S. Rep. Luke Messer on Facebook at noon Wednesday, unveiling a new U.S. Senate campaign logo. The campaign also launched a “I Like Luke” website at www.lukemesser.com which is now signing up campaign volunteers. He is expected to make a broader pitch at his annual picnic on Aug. 12 near Shelbyville. He joins Terry Henderson, Andrew Takami and Mark Hurt as announced candidates. U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita is expected to enter the race soon. Messer campaign finance chairman Greg Pence had stated in an email obtained by Howey Politics Indiana that there would be “big news” was on tap today. “Stay tuned for some very exciting news from Congressman Messer tomorrow morning,” Pence said in an email sent on Tuesday. The day of your hard work and support has arrived. Exciting times are ahead!" U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s campaign manager Peter Hanscom reacted, saying, ”Joe Donnelly has been an independent voice for Indiana in the U.S. Senate. Hoosiers know that Joe will always put them first—not party bosses, corporate lobbyists, or special interests in Washington. Despite Congressman Messer's entry into the Republican primary, there’s still only one person on next year’s Senate ballot who is deeply connected to the Hoosier electorate and has a proven track record of working across party lines to deliver for Hoosiers, and it's Joe Donnelly.”
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  • Expect more White House chaos
     Months ago I speculated on how many Trump cabinet appointees would last a year. Today, President Trump is openly conspiring to terminate Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisory H.R. McMaster appear to be tenuous. So does Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. And new comm director Anthony Scaramucci is threatening a leak purge. All of this comes as “all options are on the table” with regard to North Korea, where the Chinese are now moving military assets at the border. And Trump’s speech to the Boy Scouts last night? My reaction as an Eagle Scout is this: About the most unScout performance I’ve ever witnessed. - Brian A. Howey, publisher

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