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Wednesday, April 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.
  • 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?
  • KOKOMO –  Since my retirement as a Republican county and district chairman, I have spent much of my free time reading social media and exploring the many interesting people who call themselves Hoosier Republicans. I recently ventured out and joined the Cripple Creek Republican Study Group up near Goiter’s Notch. We met at Elsie’s Cup O’ Joe and Laundromat. I fell into a bucket of luck because the group was beginning its study of a new book by Pastor Emily Miway titled, “Free to Be, Just Like Me.” The leader of our study group, Marsha Tablelapper, is a prominent thought leader in the area and she dove right in to her analysis of Pastor Miway’s new book. “This book just  reminds me why I can’t stand our Indiana General Assembly. Like Pastor Miway says, ‘All legislators are required to go over to the IU Medical School and have first year medical students remove all of their memory about what the good book says.’” Being naturally inquisitive, I asked, “What exactly are you referring to?” “You know what the good book says about the sanctity of life!” chortled Tablelapper. “Ohhhhhh, you mean you are not happy with Indiana legislators not repealing the death sentence?”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Grabill is only 12 miles from New Haven. Both are within Allen County. You can drive from one to the other in less than 20 minutes. The Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly (April 7) reports a furniture manufacturer is moving from Grabill to consolidated, larger quarters in New Haven. One reason for the short move is to keep 125 experienced workers together. They may even add 60 jobs in the future. That sounds good to me. A Hoosier company is doing well and sees a bright future. Workers are not losing jobs. No doubt their commuting patterns will change, but not drastically and most residents of Allen County will note no differences. It may not be good for Grabill, which will now have vacant buildings that could lead to lower property tax revenues. It will be good for New Haven because one of their vacant buildings will now be occupied, which should increase property values and hence tax revenues. Yet, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has offered the company a total of $300,000 in tax credits and $60,000 for worker training, contingent on added workers being hired.
  • 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.
  • BLOOMINGTON – If we are to rebuild and sustain public faith in our democracy’s integrity, we need an investigation conducted in the light of day, by people who seek the truth and have standing and legitimacy on both sides of the political aisle. The recent announcement by FBI Director James Comey that his agency is investigating links between members of President Trump’s campaign and Russia has upended Washington. Yet there needs to be an even stronger and broader investigation to get to the bottom of what happened. There are really two questions at hand. The first involves Russian meddling in our election and their attempts to manipulate the outcome. They clearly have the ability to affect the public debate and public perceptions, and maybe hack the election itself. And it’s not just us; they appear bent on meddling in elections in other Western democracies as well. This is serious stuff. The Russians are trying to manipulate the very foundation of representative government, free elections and the integrity of our institutions. They want to weaken our system. It’s crucial to understand exactly what they’re up to, the capabilities they possess, and how effective they’ve been.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There probably isn’t another Johnny V. pounding the political paths anywhere in Indiana. He was one of a kind. And everybody liked Johnny Visclosky. But Johnny V. is what everyone called him. He passed away a week or so ago at the age of 101. He was mayor of Gary in the early 1960s when Mayor George Chacharis went to prison. Johnny V. (pictured, right) was city controller at the time and became mayor because there wasn’t a deputy mayor. He chose to serve only until the next election and gave way to A. Martin Katz. Gary was a huge vibrant city at the time with some 180,000 people calling the Steel City home. There was little crime and anyone wanting a job simply had to knock on the door at U.S. Steel. Johnny V. stayed active in politics, helping people in his beloved Gary. And everywhere he went, people glad-handed the man who knew how to make things happen. While he may have been mayor, he came to be best known as the father of U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I go to Econ Eddie, the go-to guy, when the inexplicable needs explication. “The Border Adjustment Tax (BAT) is really simple,” he says. “You’re a manufacturer and you ship something to some another country. You get paid for that shipment. But you don’t have to report that revenue on your tax return.” “Ye gads,” I shout. “The taxes I save are a direct subsidy from American taxpayers for me as an exporter. It also gives lower prices to companies and people in that other country, if I pass along my savings. It’s forced charity! Americans can hold their heads high for their generosity to other, poorer nations.”  “Oh, it’s more than that,” Eddie says. “Because you can sell for less, more buyers in other countries will want your product. This means you could invest more in America, hire more American workers, perhaps raise wages or increase your dividends, your executive pay, or up your stock price benefiting thousands of pensioners who hold your stock in their IRAs.”
  • SOUTH BEND – With all the enthusiasm at South Bend’s baseball stadium and the excitement over related economic development, it will seem strange to many of the fans who so often pack the place that the stadium almost struck out. Naysayers, predicting that a stadium would be a failure, opposed it all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court and even sought criminal charges against city officials who built it. If opponents had prevailed, there would not have been a record regular season attendance of 350,803 for South Bend Cubs games last season. Instead, zero attendance. Nor would team owner Andrew Berlin be pouring millions of dollars into stadium improvements and a major mixed-use residential complex around it. He wouldn’t be here, already investing far more than the city spent to build the stadium in 1986-87. The Chicago Cubs would not have displayed their World Series championship trophy at the site. Without a stadium, the Cubs would have no affiliate here.
  • BLOOMINGTON – There is a controversial bill which, based on kooky science (or lack thereof) that claims that chemical abortions could be reversed. The press positioned this bill as the first divisive social issue confronting fledgling Gov. Eric Holcomb. Would he sign it? Veto? Then last week, the Senate and House committee chairs announced the bill wouldn’t be heard, citing a lack of time. Powerful governors in the past would let it be known that mongrel legislation should never come close to their desk. It was a stinging lesson that Gov. Mike Pence had to endure when the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that wasn’t on his agenda, gathered his signature and ignited an embarrassing controversy. I sat down with Holcomb at Nick’s English Hut over strombolis last week. I mentioned the “powerful governor” scenario and asked him if it applied here. Did the order go out to kill this bill? A wry smile crossed his face and he answered, “I have stressed at how focused I am on our economy, on our workforce/education, on our infrastructure, on our getting control of this drug epidemic, and being able to provide good government service at a great taxpayer value. I have been laser-focused on those areas. I’m not going to be distracted.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – So I was cornered by a group of Millennials in my local Starbucks. Some very ticked off Millennials. Indiana has some serious problems that need attention. Everybody gets that. We struggle with public health, addiction, educational attainment, infrastructure, violent crime, the list goes on. This week the legislature has been working on the ISTEP replacement, changing the way the state superintendent of instruction is elected or selected, and a federal judge just blocked a controversial measure here to force Indiana women to get an ultrasound at least 18 hours before having an abortion. I could only imagine what federal issues might hold their current attention. Let me tell you, it wasn’t just the coffee that was hot and bitter. These young adults were ticked off about two things, and both took me by surprise. At first, I braced myself to hear their thoughts about our president, equality, the environment, transit, any number of issues. What they were upset about caught me off guard, but it makes sense. Of course, they had bigger issues on their mind as well, but they wanted to talk about things that were practical, simple, and relevant to them; things that they in fact considered to be non-controversial and just obvious. 
  • Brian Howey: Will Syrian atrocity change Trump/Pence worldview?
    INDIANAPOLIS – After two years of President Trump and Vice President Pence demonizing and vilifying Syrian refugees, seeking to ban them from Indiana and the nation, trying to thwart their resettlement here in a state that boasts its “Hoosier hospitality,” the past two days became a watershed. It came a day after the Syrian Assad regime gassed its citizens – again – killing dozens. The world was treated of visions of gasping, foaming children being sprayed down with water from garden hoses on the beds of pickup trucks, stripped of their chemically soaked clothing. And the world recoiled.  This occurred four years after the Kremlin had said it had removed all chemical weapons from the Assad regime, prompting President Obama to back off his “red line.” And it came a week after Hanover College faculty and alums chastised fellow graduate Pence, saying in a letter signed by some 400, “We write to you to ask how, as an obviously devout Christian, and after four years of the enlightening liberal arts education we all received at Hanover College, you can participate in the discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and antipathy toward the poor that we see in the actions of the Trump administration.”
  • KOKOMO – Way back in 1974, when I was working in Washington, D.C., as an intern for an Indiana congressman, it didn’t take long for this Hoosier to figure out that there was no such thing as equality of the two houses of Congress. A cursory look told you that the U. S. Senate had nicer offices, a better dining room, neater chambers and a host of other perks not available to their House brethren. Heck, the senators generally dressed better, talked smoother and carried themselves with an air that was reminiscent of their ancient Roman role models. As an intern who took every available opportunity to sit in both chambers and observe the proceedings, it readily became apparent to me that there was another huge difference between the House and the Senate. The Senate possessed an air of decorum that was strikingly different from that of the House. The senators always referred to each other as “The gentleman from Such and Such.” House members might refer to each other as only slightly more polite than, “Hey, dipstick.”  The most noticeable difference between the two houses was it appeared that senators liked to hear themselves speak.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Through his budget proposals, President Trump is forcing all of us to be more explicit about our values. Take his desire to eliminate federal funding for the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA), the Humanities (NEH), plus programs for libraries, museums and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). These federal organizations will lose $971 million in Trump’s budget. Indiana’s Arts Commission and its Humanities counterpart together get about $1.6 million. The CPB pumps $8.8 million into the state for public radio and TV. Museum and library support comes to $3.2 million. That totals to $13.6 million for Indiana from the feds. Weigh that against the Indianapolis subsidy for the Pacers (a presumably private, professional basketball team) to the tune of $16 million per year. What is the annual subsidy for the Colts? Is there a public subsidy for the baseball team in South Bend? For the hockey team in Fort Wayne? For the Evansville Otters? Let’s be clear, I’m a sports fan. This weekend I watched IU lose a (7-3) baseball game to Nebraska. Need I do more to prove my devotion (addiction) to sports?

  • SOUTH BEND – A group of people most likely to vote for a Democrat for Congress will sponsor a town hall meeting for 2nd District Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski next Sunday, 3 to 5 p.m., at Century Center in downtown South Bend. Let’s consider some questions about this unusual event. Q. Is this a nice bipartisan gesture, what with some Democrats paying for a site for Jackie to meet with her constituents? A. Oh, sure. About as nice a gesture as it would be for President Trump to invite MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on stage at one of his rallies. Q. Well, why would Democrats pay for a town hall for Jackie? A. Wait. The sponsoring group calls itself Northern Indiana Community Coalition for Health Care (NICCHC.) No letters D or E or M or O. So, it is not an official Demo function. That technicality aside, the purpose is to shame Walorski for not holding any town hall meeting for her constituents since 2013. Q. Who cares if Walorski doesn’t hold town hall meetings or news conferences and doesn’t agree to debates? A. Her supporters don’t. Her detractors do.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Why does Lake County keep embarrassing itself smack dab in the middle of the General Assembly? No wonder downstate Republicans are often unwilling to give Lake County money when folks come hat in hand. I and others have sometimes criticized the state for giving Lake County the cold shoulder. But, alas, I can’t criticize the state for what it is about to do. Some Lake County towns and cities are about to mess up the work U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, has done for the last three years to bring South Shore Railroad’s West Lake Corridor to reality. Visclosky has worked doggedly to get 20 Lake County municipalities to commit at least a third of their County Economic Development Income Tax over the next 30 years to building the nine-mile rail line. Now, Merrillville has voted to reduce its pledge from 22% of its CEDIT to 8%.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – It took one of the most brilliant humans, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, to place in proper context the definition of “insanity.” It is, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  A week ago Friday, a true mongrel piece of congressional legislation, the American Health Care Act, also known as “RyanCare” or “TrumpCare,” died a conspicuous death. President Trump, Vice President Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan framed and foisted such a bad bill that they couldn’t even muster 216 Republican votes in the U.S. House. They spent a mere 17 days on this folly, and at the end the American people detected a festering rat in the policy punch bowl. So discredited was the ACHA that in a Quinnipiac Poll, only 17 percent supported a bill that according to Congressional Budget Office estimates would have deprived up to 24 million Americans of health insurance. We watched President Trump, an alleged epic dealmaker, who was reduced to persistent questions to top aides, “This is a good bill, isn’t it?” and then confessed, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” We squirmed as Pence and every Republican in the Indiana congressional delegation signed on to this mess in rote, party-line fashion.
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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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