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Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:08 PM
LOGANSPORT – As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I’m not beyond hearing grumblings from those who contend the Cubs organization is maintaining a nostalgic museum to baseball in the form of Wrigley Field.
It’s a subtle way of saying the only major league baseball, championship-caliber competitors associated with Wrigley Field are those who either have their numbers retired and flying on flagpoles or their old baseball cards are increasing in value with trading on e-Bay. The Cubs are a passive voice team; the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox and Cardinals are active voices.
I relate this example because there are the same whispers about the Indiana Republican Party that are relevant for the Indiana Democratic Party as well.
The selection of Tim Berry as state GOP chair was the best possible choice Gov. Mike Pence could have made. Berry is battle-tested in statewide campaigns, he’s served without a hint of besmirchment and he has the ideology of someone who can be the trunk of a tree instead of out on the limb of one.
  • LOGANSPORT – For many of us, there isn’t a Christmas season that goes by without about 90 minutes spent sitting, watching an American classic. “It’s a Wonderful Life” rekindles the era of hand-wrapped boxes with gifts from downtown department stores in county seats all over the country. It evokes a spirit of what real American community is and the notion that when a friend needs you, you’ll be there for them, and vice versa. But the one thing about “It’s a Wonderful Life” that makes me want to watch it over and over again is that vision of what the fictional community of Bedford Falls would be like without our protagonist, Jimmy Stewart. In the Dickensian spirit of allowing someone to look into the future, Jimmy’s character is afforded a view of what life in his community would be like without him. It’s a humbling thing for Jimmy, who sees his wife, played by Donna Reed, alone in the world. He sees his home dark and deserted. And perhaps most troubling is that his community has slipped into an economic and social abyss.
  • LOGANSPORT – We may never know the reasons why Gov. Mike Pence pulled the plug on an application for $80 million in funding. What we do know is that Indiana and one other state were reportedly positioned to receive the funding for pre-kindergarten programs in the state. It may not go down as a political setback for Pence or the Indiana General Assembly, but it certainly will go down as a setback for education. There’s been great debate in this country about how we all need to get children prepared to learn when they enter school for the first time. But this latest setback for pre-kindergarten funding in the state is like what Mark Twain once said about the weather: “Everybody always talks about it, but nobody ever does anything about it.”
  • LOGANSPORT – It drew praise last week from both sides of the aisle in Indianapolis. “It” was a decision to strip State Rep. Eric Turner of his Indiana House leadership position because of a conflict of interest. Turner had worked behind the scenes on a nursing home issue before the state, which could potentially affect his own family’s nursing home business. Turner has been in the legislature long enough to know that his job there is not to serve as a lobbyist for the nursing home industry. That’s what his family’s nursing home should have done. Recusing himself from discussion and potentially any vote on the issue probably would have been the right thing to do. But just exactly how do legislators from either party know what is the right thing to do? The Turner case brings to the surface an issue that begs more consideration: How to prevent conflicts of interest from happening in the first place and identifying red-flag situations that should not have involved those with pecuniary or vested interests in the outcome of a bill, a vote, a caucus or a floor fight. How many other Eric Turners are there out there in the legislature?
  • LOGANSPORT – Think for a minute what would happen if it was announced a week before school started this fall that all state funding for school buses was gone and there would be no more. Think of the public outcry from parents who depend on the most successful mass transit program the United States has ever had, and how they would lobby their local school boards, county and city councils, demanding that local government pay to keep the buses going. At some point, school buses became the norm for the American society because they are simply the best way to collect students safely and cheaply and return them home. Of course, Mike Pence and 49 other sitting governors would never cancel school funding because it would be political suicide. But the same logic and common sense that applies to iconic yellow buses isn’t the same kind of logic that’s being applied in Indiana.
  • LOGANSPORT – Any Hoosier who wanted to walk into an Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch and plunk down a little extra spendable income to reserve a specialty vanity license plate for the last year has had to deal with this reality: You can’t pay the state money to do it. That’s because the vanity plate program has been delayed while state officials sort out the controversy over what might be considered offensive language on the plate. Meanwhile, state coffers have suffered because Hoosiers who want to give the state their money can’t. This story is relevant because it serves as a terrific example of how inept state government can be when it is given a challenge, even one as innocuous as determining what the rules are for spending your money on a state service.
  • LOGANSPORT – John has to be more Gregg-arious to win. In politics, there are two things that matter to voters: How much they like you as a person and how much they like what you stand for or want to do if you’re elected. In 2012, former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg scored heavily with voters on likability. If you didn’t know John Gregg before he ran for governor, you either knew him as “the man with two first names” or the man associated with mustaches on bumper stickers or folksy television commercials. In short, there simply wasn’t anything not to like about John Gregg, unless you were voting for Mike Pence. Gregg’s candidacy presumes first that there won’t be an Evan Bayh redux in the governor’s race, and that will throw things wide open.
  • LOGANSPORT – First, we should applaud Indiana lawmakers and Gov. Mike Pence for broaching the issue of pre-school education and using state money to pay for it. Generations of Indiana government officials from both parties have ignored this issue for too long, and at least they are willing to start the discussion over what we can do to help at-risk kids succeed in school. The Indiana General Assembly, however, will not provide funding this year. Gov. Pence has indicated it should be time to at least provide “voucher scholarships” for children who really need pre-school education. What’s sad about this story is that what Indiana is scratching the surface of doing is what the majority of other states already have done for many years. In fact, 40 states already provide some funding for preschool education.
  • LOGANSPORT - An image forever ingrained in my memory is a televised report of campaign finances for one of Indiana's congressional delegations. While the narrative voice of an Indianapolis anchor read the staggering totals of incumbents and challengers, many of which were well into the six-figure range, the station's chyron displayed a total for Congressman Andy Jacobs I thought had to be a mistake. He had reported only $10,000 for his entire campaign. "What?"I thought. "That has to be a mistake," I thought. It wasn't. A moment later, the anchor offered a caveat that Jacobs didn't accept political action committee funding. He could have funded his entire campaign for re-election in a day. He might have had the lowest campaign account of any congressional incumbent with an opponent that year. Andy Jacobs, who passed away last month, was simply not made the way other members of Congress were. Indiana contributed tons of limestone for the halls of Congress, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the Washington Monument. But the bedrock of ethical campaigns was personified by Jacobs, who went out of his way to avoid any appearance that he could be bought and paid for by special interests.
  • LOGANSPORT – Now that former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg is out of the 2016 race for Indiana governor, the speculation begins. Who will the party's nominee for governor be in 2016? There are several possibilities – some intriguing. Others are a bit less inspiring to the point that the Democratic Party's worst critics might refer to them the way Brooklyn fans viewed the Dodgers before they won a championship at Ebbetts Field: "Dem bums". First, the $1 million question on anyone's mind in this discussion is, "Will Evan Bayh come back to run?" I don't know that Bayh knows the answer to that right now. If he does, Indiana will be a battleground state in 2016, but this again assumes that Bayh isn't the No. 2 person on his party's presidential ballot. If he is, the governor's race is out of the question. If he runs, Mike Pence will be an underdog no matter what he does in his four years in downtown Indianapolis. Until the presidential primary and convention scenarios unfold, Indiana Democrats have to proceed with the notion that Bayh will not be a candidate.
  • 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.
  • LOGANSPORT – As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I’m not beyond hearing grumblings from those who contend the Cubs organization is maintaining a nostalgic museum to baseball in the form of Wrigley Field.
    It’s a subtle way of saying the only major league baseball, championship-caliber competitors associated with Wrigley Field are those who either have their numbers retired and flying on flagpoles or their old baseball cards are increasing in value with trading on e-Bay. The Cubs are a passive voice team; the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox and Cardinals are active voices.
    I relate this example because there are the same whispers about the Indiana Republican Party that are relevant for the Indiana Democratic Party as well.
    The selection of Tim Berry as state GOP chair was the best possible choice Gov. Mike Pence could have made. Berry is battle-tested in statewide campaigns, he’s served without a hint of besmirchment and he has the ideology of someone who can be the trunk of a tree instead of out on the limb of one.
    But what the leaders of both parties have to recognize is that the country’s demographics have changed and they have to be more inclusive in putting together ballots. Republicans have lost the popular vote in four of the past five presidential elections, and even lost Indiana for the first time since 1964. They will have to change with the times to reflect the voting public, and that means more women and minorities in leadership positions.
    It means the parties, which have long had the support from rural counties, will have to become more urban in nature. It means the people running will have to be more educated. It also means elections will probably be more about the center of political debates than the left or right. It also means if state political parties want to produce leaders who can be relevant on a national scale, they’re probably going to have to produce candidates who look more like typical Americans. It’s significant to note for instance that a makeover of Betty Crocker’s image a few years ago took on darker hair and eyes, a move made to reflect the trend of Hispanic Americans in the country.
    There also is an ideological shift that may be evident in one recent statistic. The New York Times, which has been embraced more by the left than the right, is now outselling USA Today, a more mainstream-to-conservative publication, for the first time in years. This, too, may be a signal that the nation is moving more to the left.
    Berry will be able to field candidates, particularly those for state offices which have been a stable support for the GOP. But many of the big names of the past 20 years in state politics have vanished. There is no more relevance for Dan Quayle, Richard Lugar, Steve Goldsmith and now Mitch Daniels. Berry has the opportunity to forge a path with new names that have no baggage attached. Whether the names will look like Indiana looks from a demographic standpoint remains to be seen.
    In short, this is not your father’s Republican Party, or your father’s Democratic Party. It’s the 21st century, and it’s here. In fact, the demographic changes in the past 20 years signal even more change in the next 37 years. Senators such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are exceptions in 2013, but by 2050, the Latino Caucus in Congress may be a very powerful influence on the national agenda – as much as organized labor in the 1930s or the Moral Majority in the 1980s. Will Indiana have a member in that caucus? It remains to be seen, but it could happen. Some would contend it probably should happen if Indiana is to have any standing on a national political stage.
    The motivation to field candidates who can do more than just win is simple: If you resonate with the country, you can be a Barack Obama. Skin color won’t matter. Heritage won’t matter. Even party affiliation won’t matter as much. But politics has to matter for a democracy to work.
    And the matters of politics are what being a state chair is all about. 

    Kitchell is a columnist from Logansport.
  • LOGANSPORT – It might be too early for voters to think about  who they will vote for in the 2016 presidential race, but it isn’t too early for potential candidates to think about whether  they will be candidates in 2016.
    That’s because the next president has to be talking to people even now, raising money, testing the waters and scoping out the potential challenger field.
    I’m not a betting man, but in Vegas, the odds would have to be on a 2016 match-up pitting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
    Pundits are always interested in “what-ifs” when it comes to candidacies, but the person who has to have more interest than other non-pundits this time around is former Sen. Evan Bayh.
    There is some great irony in the fact that Bayh might be vice president today if it had not been for the meteoric rise of a former Illinois senator named Barack Obama. Bayh’s name was on the political horizon long before 10 percent of Americans could tell you what state Obama was from or what office he held there.
    Clinton had virtually tabbed Bayh as her running mate in waiting and Indiana Democrats, including former House Speaker Pat Bauer, had endorsed Clinton for president. The Bayh allegiance to Clinton had to go a long way to helping her win Indiana in the 2008 Democratic primary.
    For her efforts and her cause to become the first female president, Obama rewarded her with the No. 3 position in the federal  government.
    What did Bayh get?
    It wasn’t the first time Bayh was in the running for second place on the national ticket, but will it be the last?
    That’s the question Bayh has to be thinking about every day until Clinton decides whether she’ll make another run.     
    In some respects, the decks are cleared for her. She recently has had her campaign debt from 2008 paid off, and she had borrowed from her own funds to keep that campaign going. She has stepped down as secretary of state, which presumably gives her the time to ponder a bid and the instant anonymity of being able to work behind the scenes. There is no perceived frontrunner in 2016 and given Vice President Joe Biden’s age, he will not be a logical choice.
    That leaves Bayh with a glossy resume that includes 12 years in Washington and eight years as governor. He grew up there and he has a history of being a moderate at a time when the Tea Party’s influence is waning and extreme candidates are waning with them, witness Richard Mourdock’s failed bid for the U.S. Senate.
    Whether Bayh’s name appears on the ballot in 2016 depends on part on the Democratic field if Clinton doesn’t run.
    Some of the names that have to be considered are New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey Jr., Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the real wild card who is one of Bayh’s old friends from the days he was growing up in Washington – Al Gore.
    Indiana Democrats shouldn’t expect Bayh to be on the ballot in this state in 2016 unless he’s a candidate for vice president. But if the veepstakes up Bayh again, don’t be surprised if he returns to Indiana in 2020 as a retiree who is willing to run for governor again and resurrect the party, particularly if Mike Pence is completing a second term and Democrats are fewer and farther between in the Indiana General Assembly than they are now.
    The only other scenario that could return Bayh to Washington is if Democrats lose a majority in the Senate or are close to it with Sen. Dan Coats’ seat hanging in the balance. If that happens, a Bayh return might be likely. For now, the future of Evan Bayh in politics is simply an intriguing question for Hoosiers  and Washington insiders.

    Kitchell is an award-winning columnist based in Logansport.
  • LOGANSPORT - Perhaps the most poignant moment in this year’s campaign for Indiana governor came in the waning moments of last week’s debate.

    That was when former House Speaker John Gregg candidly admitted that if voters identified with far right candidates and the Tea Party manifesto, he simply wasn’t their man. If they were Lugar Republicans who felt more comfortable with a six-term incumbent than Republican Senate nominee Richard Mourdock however, they were – and are -- the people Gregg wants to convince that they have to vote for him.

    For a moment, the most folksy gubernatorial candidate Indiana has probably ever had pivoted seriously to the folks he has to convince if he has any hopes of becoming the first member of his party to win the governor’s office since Frank O’Bannon in 2000.

    On style points, Gregg was a winner in the debate when he and Rep. Mike Pence finally engaged head-to-head in a conversation that had a tinge of bitterness, but little departure from Pence’s cool approach to his old law school classmate, Gregg. His appeal was Gregg-arious, but it will have to be to more resonant if supporters will be exhorting a Gregg-orian chant on election night next month.

    Was that appeal from Gregg sincere enough – and loud enough to be heard? If it wasn’t, it should be the mantra of his remaining commercials, along with two other words: Experience Matters. Pence has none in the Indiana General Assembly and his running mate has only one two-year term. Gregg and his running mate have been integral parts of state government for much of the past two decades and have probably forgotten more about state government than the Pence ticket actually knows. State Sen. Vi Simpson alone has served longer as a public official than Pence.

    Unfortunately, Indiana politics in presidential years tends to default to Republican expectations in a way similar to how Sports Illustrated and every preseason football publication defaults to Notre Dame, Alabama and USC – even if Oregon, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Utah have the best teams in the continental 48. To win, Democrats have to simply outplay the competition just as the Boise States do in college football.

    The governor’s race presents a stark contrast. Dare I say if Democrats had the governor and lieutenant governor candidates with the state government experience the Pence ticket doesn’t have, the poll numbers would probably be the same? Maybe … maybe not. But Gregg and the Democrats have simply not exploited an advantage. Gregg’s television commercial featuring his friend “Hobo” are nice, but commercials that connect funding approved while he was House speaker to the projects now in place across the state would create more of a hubbub about him as a candidate for governor.

    While Gregg’s mustachioed yard signs are popping up in Republican leaning counties, there is a lesson to be learned for his campaign from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. His greatest contribution to party politics and presidential politics is engaging the party in a 50-state campaign.

    That made sense from an Electoral College standpoint, and it was enough to swing states such as Indiana to Barack Obama in 2008. It makes even more sense for Gregg to run a 92-county campaign in the closing weeks because there is no Electoral College in Indiana. It’s all a matter of popular vote. If he can make a strong showing in Allen, Tippecanoe, Bartholomew, Vanderburgh, Elikhart, Monroe, Porter, Howard, Vigo, Grant and Delaware counties, there’s a chance that majorities in Lake, St. Joseph, Marion and Knox counties can pull him through. But if the race is out of hand, it simply won’t matter. Democrats will have allowed Pence to skate by with a victory inasmuch as he skated with his wife in his first campaign television commercial.

    Former Olympic skater Wayne Seybold, now the mayor of Marion, is much better on the ice, even if he couldn’t win his party’s nomination for 5th District Republican Congressional candidate. Pence is leading based on voter assumption that he is somehow anointed as the governor in waiting because he is the party nominee.

    Pence so far in the election has done an excellent job of appearing to stay above the fray of the race and remaining positive. But questions about what he really has accomplished in Washington linger. If he is “one of the hardest working” members of Congress as he claimed in the debate, what legislation can he claim to have passed, and what leadership has he provided that somehow changed Washington for the better?

    For now, it is Gregg, not the Republicans, who are faced with the reality that there may very well be 47 percent of the Indiana electorate that will not vote for him. But there is the reality that slightly more than 50 percent of voters put O’Bannon in office in 1996, and that number allows for 47 percent of likely Republican voters to get their way.

    Gregg’s hope in thinning the ice beneath the Pence campaign has to be one that is clarified in closing weeks that show him running like the future of his party depends on it. In a very real sense, it truly might.

    Kitchell is an award-winning columnist based in Logansport.
  • LAFAYETTE – Former Notre Dame basketball Coach Richard “Digger” Phelps was known for saying he didn’t want to schedule in-state rival Purdue for college basketball games because there were no good roads between South Bend and Lafayette.

    Phelps’ Notre Dame teams never did play Purdue during Phelps’ many years in South Bend, a tenure that was not as long as outgoing Indiana House Minority Leader Pat Bauer has had in the Indiana General Assembly. The roads between South Bend and Lafayette have improved markedly since Phelps and Bauer became household names in South Bend. Phelps retired without winning a national championship, though he did make it to the Final Four once. Bauer is apparently headed to retirement after being in the Indiana government version of the Final Four – governor, lieutenant governor, House Speaker or Senate President.

    But after a majority of the Indiana House Democratic Caucus gathered here Thursday in a rare meeting outside of Indianapolis when the legislature is not in session, it’s apparent that Bauer’s time as a key Indiana leader is over. Whether or not he will run again in 2014 is the only real question remaining for him to answer.

    Democrats have been loyal to Bauer, and some would say loyal to a fault. His best times were probably 10 years ago when he had former St. Joseph County party boss Butch Morgan behind him and former South Bend Mayor Joe Kernan ahead of him in the lieutenant governor’s office. But that leadership trio from South Bend – what may be the most noted political trio in one party in South Bend ever to reach the summit of Indiana politics – that couldn’t capitalize on its position. Had Kernan not indicated he wouldn’t seek the governorship initially, then decided to run after he assumed office when the late Frank O’Bannon died, it might have been a different story. The same could be said if Republicans had not fielded Mitch Daniels.

    But it wasn’t meant to be.

    The best Democrats could do was to play to their strength – Bauer. As tough-minded as he was and is, Bauer was dealt a hand in 2010 that sealed his fate. With Republicans controlling both houses of the legislature, redistricting eliminated many seats that allowed Democrats to eek out a majority in the 1980s and 1990s. When the dust settled, only 40 Democrats remained, with the prospect of even fewer if 2012 elections in new districts produce an even greater Republican majority. With the drought of 2012 serving as a metaphor for Indiana House Democrats as the low water point for the party in the past quarter century, the time for change finally came.

    In euchre, the card game Hoosiers are known to play often at summer lake cottages and kitchen tables, the left bower is the second highest card in the game. Democrats in Indiana have trumped their own left Bauer with a new leader, Linda Lawson, who has virtually no baggage and no name recognition. What she does represent is a new direction for the party as it attempts to regain an Indiana House majority. It will be difficult with names such as Dembowski and Grubb no longer around, but it may be the change Democrats needed to focus on new districts with fresh candidates. Given the possibility that Barack Obama could carry the state a second time in November and open seats for the U.S. Senate and the governor’s office, the  Democrats are on the most level playing field they’ve had in a long time on the ballot. They’ll need it to overcome a legislative map that has estranged many voters from their legislators, giving them shotgun marriages with incumbents they know little or nothing about.

    The deck has been shuffled. The 2012 euchre hand is being played and the left Bauer is buried in the widow. Now it’s up to Lawson to call the trump or euchre Republicans at their own game. If she and Democrats succeed in creating a new majority out of this situation, they could create a new generation of party leadership for the next decade.

    Kitchell is an award-winning columnist based in Logansport.
  • WEST LAFAYETTE – When news spread across the Purdue campus Tuesday that the next campus president might be Indiana’s governor, there was no sit-in at the Union where protests were common during the Vietnam War.
    But there weren’t any chants of “We Want Mitch” either.
    A worker in the next booth from me at McDonald’s praised the possibility because the governor “balanced the budget”, not knowing that the governor has nothing to do with the state budget other than signing after the legislature passes it. One student in a class I’m taking there questioned if Daniels would begin privatizing residence halls. Even if Dick Cheney doesn’t persuade Halliburton to bid on it, don’t rule it out.
    The “why” of how Daniels will become the successor to France Cordova is easy. When you pick the people who can pick most of the people who can pick you for the job and you want it, it’s only a matter of a few calls. Trustees can be reminded of IOUs for the job that isn’t IU and if Mike Pence or John Gregg is elected, the likelihood they won’t be reappointed if they don’t pick Daniels. Trustees, who face the reality that – unlike their IU counterparts -- they raise more research funding from private funds than public dollars, might be playing on Daniels’ name recognition to secure more federal funding and Washington influence.
    Like Cordova, Daniels will have a D.C. residence at his disposal if he wants to lobby Congress, the administration or whatever officials he so pleases.
    Of course, trustees might be thinking Daniels is the closest thing they have to a lever to help them pry more state funding away from the Indiana General Assembly. But don’t bet on it.
    This was a clear shift away from the tradition of Purdue’s presidential traditions. Daniels has no connections to any expertise involving a specific college unless politics counts as animal science. He is a Purdue parent, but not a Purdue grad, and he has far weaker an academic resume than the woman he is replacing.
    He isn’t a minority as she is, and he assures Purdue of not only making Daniels’ supporters happy, but Daniels’ opponents even unhappier. Whether that will translate into less public giving to Purdue remains to be seen, but political affiliations tend to have a polarizing effect in academe.         

    The same issue was raised when former Sen. Evan Bayh retired and his name was instantly associated with the Purdue vacancy.
    What exactly the choice accomplishes for Daniels other than being a resume builder is anyone’s guess.
    After being a White House budget director and a governor, why bother with a college presidency? And if Cordova was not a choice worthy of a new contract even though she qualifies for one beyond the usual retirement age of 65 and previous presidents have been afforded that opportunity, what exactly will the expectations be that measure his success?
    Was this the best that Purdue could come up with after a search that took more than a year, or were the trustees just biding time until Daniels was clearly out of the running not only for the presidency, but the No. 2 slot on the Republican ticket?
    The answer we may not know for some time, but we know now that his decision to head to his next job with still half a year remaining at his current one is the worst kept secret in West Lafayette.

    Kitchell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Logansport.
  • LOGANSPORT - Imagine a scenario in which somebody shows up at the Indiana Unclaimed Property Division to claim all the cash from the latest state accounting error courtesy of the Indiana Department of Revenue.
    The dialogue for some unassuming clerk would start something like this: “Excuse me, is Mr. Zoeller, Mr. Greg Zoeller here? I’m an Indiana taxpayer, and I’m here for my share of the $206 million.”
    “The $206 million,” a confused clerk may respond.
    “Yes,” a confident taxpayer might retort. “I’ve read where the latest state accounting error took away that amount from cities, counties, towns, libraries, schools and whatever else is funded by the state, which I guess includes all major state universities. I don’t want all of it — just my share if you don’t mind.”
    For those of you who just joined this issue, before last week, the last time this happened was just before Christmas when Gov. Mitch Daniels announced there was a slight, $320 million error caused when a fund collecting e-filings for business taxes was not included in the mix for state revenue – for three years. The Indiana General Assembly in its finite — not infinite — wisdom, decided to right that wrong by giving all Hoosiers a $50 rebate.
    But legislators aren’t in session now until next year, which means it may be up to Daniels to decide how to right this latest wrong. To put this amount of cash in perspective, the $206 million error is roughly the amount any of last month’s three record Mega Millions lottery winners collected before taxes, which is enough to run the city of Indianapolis for a couple of months, according to one projection.
    To say that any taxpayer or the president of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union or Grover Norquist could stop by the Indiana attorney general’s office and lay claim to $206 million is sardonic. But to point out that Zoeller and his staff are charged with the responsibility of returning millions of unclaimed stock dividends, safety deposit contents, insurance revenue and other personal property to rightful owners is purely ironic because Daniels will have a devil of a time ever returning $206 million to the rightful taxing units that were owed the money in the first place.
    And how will he compensate all these taxing entities that had to borrow money just to make payroll? He won’t. That will be a cost passed along to us, the taxpayers. He won’t pay a penalty. He won’t serve time, and he won’t lose his job.
    Yes, in less than six months, Daniels, a former White House budget director for George W. Bush, managed to lose track of at least a half billion in tax dollars. Given the ongoing lawsuit involving the state and IBM over the botched Medicaid reform system IBM implemented for Daniels, the state could be out another half billion, depending on what settlement is eventually reached.
    And there’s more. Daniels has called for an independent audit to determine what other errors might have been made by the Department of Revenue. An audit may never tell us if Daniels ever questioned or attempted to find out if the Department of Revenue was doing its job.
    But the real issue here is not just what errors have been or are still being made. It’s what can and will be done to remedy this Keystone Coppery of a state budget process. And incidentally, who audits local government to make sure all its books are in order? You guessed it, the state does.
    The sad thing is that if no one claims unclaimed property in the attorney general’s office, the funds go to the state by default. But the ineptitude of the Daniels administration has allowed the state to confiscate money local units of government should have had all along — and keep it.
    Who could potentially be filing “claims” for part of that $206 million?
    How about police in Marion County who are plugging over a $30 million budgetary gap, or the school corporations that laid off teachers as class sizes ballooned? And then there are all the public safety employees in cities such as Logansport and Muncie. Support your local fire department signs appeared in Logansport as jobs were cut when Daniels tightened the state’s purse strings. Hoosiers blindly put their trust in a public official who had no clue that there were hundreds of millions virtually stored in the state’s mattress in Indianapolis.
    The reason, we assumed? It had to be the national economy hitting Indiana hard. It wasn’t.
    Speaking of irony, the last time somebody in Indianapolis was found to have taken $200 million from people who had it coming, federal authorities seized the records of Indianapolis investment manager Tim Durham and indicted him. Not so coincidentally, Durham has been a huge contributor to Daniels’ campaign, and Daniels hasn’t returned that money to Durham’s alleged victims in Ohio and Indiana either.
    Meanwhile, as the state’s books were still simmering from the latest cooking by revenue officials last week, Daniels was in a curious place – the Middle East. Presumably, it’s a trip that could build his resume to be a vice presidential hopeful when Republicans meet in Tampa this summer. But this latest fiasco makes a former White House budget director look like a former Supreme Court justice who couldn’t tell you how many amendments to the Constitution there are, or a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has lost track of all the nation’s nuclear warheads.
    The elephant in the room on this issue is an elephant, small in stature, completing his second term in a state that has no recall petition, but millions of residents who will one day be able to recall the worst budget debacle in Indiana history and the man who claimed to be fiscally responsible at the forefront of it.
    They say elephants never forget. Hoosiers will never forget this elephant either.

    Kitchell is an award winning columnist based in Logansport.
  • LOGANSPORT - When it comes to legal requirements about where you have to live to be able to be elected and represent millions of people, we’re consistent on one thing in this country – inconsistency.

    Yes, Sen. Richard Lugar is being taken to task for not physically spending most of his waking hours, or at least his non-working hours, in Indiana. Since 1977, he has stayed in hotels when he returned to Indiana, and he recently was called out by the media for having taxpayers foot the bill. He repaid more than $4,000 in hotel bills he should have paid out of pocket all that time.

    But at the end of the day, there are a few things apparent about the issue of Lugar’s residency – or the residency of any candidate running for Congress. The first is that Indiana attorneys general have ruled that he was breaking no law and can legally represent the state as well from a Motel 6 as he can from a townhouse. Is he really “out of touch” with Indiana voters because he’s served in Washington for 36 years and hasn’t kept what would virtually be a vacation home back here in Indiana?

    That’s a question voters can decide in May and/or November, but the reality is that holding candidates accountable for their residency is an issue with changing importance. As political winds blow, it depends on who you’re backing and when you’re backing them.

    Let’s take for instance former Sen. Evan Bayh. When he first ran for Indiana Secretary of State in the 1980s, Republicans took him to task for living in Washington D.C. But they lost a challenge to that claim in part because “home” is where you vote as much as where you do your laundry, eat your meals or take your Sunday
    afternoon naps.

    The District of Columbia wasn’t set up by the forefathers as a state. By design, it was meant to be a place where Americans from every state could come to mutually live and work for the betterment of the country.  And that’s exactly what thousands of members of Congress, not to mention presidents and civil service government employees of both parties , have done for more than 200 years.

    If we really think Lugar is out of touch based solely on residency, what about the Republicans nationwide who pushed for former presidential candidate Alan Keyes to go to Illinois and run for the U.S. Senate against a fellow named Obama? Several minor leaguers called up by the Chicago White Sox and Cubs after Sept. 1 for a brief taste of Major League Baseball had spent more time in Illinois than Keyes, yet Republicans supported his entry into the race and put millions behind him.

    And then there’s Hillary Clinton and Robert F. Kennedy. Both candidates might have been out of touch with New York voters in some eyes, but both moved to the Empire State to run for the U.S. Senate – and won. Let’s add to that point  a Republican name, Chris Chocola, who ran for the current 2nd Congressional District that includes Logansport and served four years in Congress -- without a permanent residence in the district.

    In the earlier stages of our country, candidates known as “carpetbaggers” were allowed and even encouraged to run for Congress in districts they had never lived in because new states were added to the union every few years, and new states needed people in Washington who were “in touch” with the way the country was being run. This no doubt encouraged political opportunism that still exists, even if we never add another state to our democracy. That segment of federal election law is an enabling exception that has probably outlived its usefulness.

    In weighing the issue of residency in Lugar’s case or any other, we also have to think about the other end of the spectrum. What if elected officials spent more time in places other than Washington and didn’t cast a vote that allowed their constituents to be “in touch” with decisions on issues? Countless members of Congress have spent hours on the campaign trail or on junkets to other countries at taxpayer expense. Yet, because our elected officials don’t make it back home for the chicken dinner circuit or a Lincoln Day or Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in our county, we take it for granted that they’re probably working on something important in the nation’s capital.

    The only residency requirement that really matters is that of Indiana voters. Ultimately, they decide what candidates are best in touch with them, regardless of their age, address, religion, creed or color. Ironically, the candidate Indiana voters last elected to enforce that right wasn’t even a resident of the town he claimed to represent on its council.

    Residency matters, at least in that case. Whether it matters that much to voters in Lugar’s current race with Richard Mourdock remains to be seen.

    Kitchell is an award winning columnist based in Logansport.
  • LOGANSPORT - Perhaps it was his finest hour – or half hour -- as either an elected or appointed official.

    Those few minutes late Tuesday night when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels gave the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address acknowledged shortcomings the GOP has in its agenda, and it played to his strength as the closest thing to a CPA fiscal persona his party has.

    Daniels had to have grabbed the attention of some party faithful when he said Republicans have to stop giving tax incentives to the rich that they don’t need and that don’t serve any purpose that creates jobs. That wasn’t the politically correct thing to say if you’re a Republican, but it showed the budgetary candor Daniels is known for having. Had Daniels continued that theme throughout his response, he might have taken the national Republican Party in an entirely new direction that it may eventually go.

    Daniels began his response by crediting the president and his wife for serving as strong role models for the country. He also made it clear, unlike Republican presidential candidates and party leaders, that the president isn’t to blame for problems created when the national economy tanked in the fall of 2008. Yet he said Obama could not acknowledge that the economy is worse today than it was three years ago when he took office.

    There was no mention of General Motors regaining its position last week as the world’s No. 1 automaker or of Chrysler getting off the mat and emerging stronger than it has been in years – both stories that have helped his own state rebound from recession. There was no mention of a world without Osama bin Laden and Moammar Qadhaffi. There was no mention of a health care reform package that will cover more Americans, nor his own acknowledgment than an attempt to reform Medicaid in his own state was an embarrassing failure not only for his administration, but IBM. So much for a private sector solution to running government like a business.

    Daniels may have struck a chord with many Americans when he warned that if the United States fails to repair its safety net of Medicare and Social Security, it could find itself in the same position several of Europe’s nations have – bankrupt.

    But if Daniels was successful in conveying his foresight and passion for the nation’s domestic picture, he completely avoided any mention of accountability – the kind that made Bernie Madoff the poster boy for a national collapse that included a mortgage crisis. He pointed to a high unemployment rate for Americans under 30, but he made no mention of the skyrocketing unemployment rate that escalated in the final months of his former employer, President George W. Bush.

    Daniels criticized Obama for “castigating” Americans, without directly saying Obama was inciting class warfare, as in the “99 percent” and “Occupy Wall Street” crowds. But his own castigation of the Senate majority and Obama for entitlement spending is a speech that could have been given in 1952, 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992 and 2002 – and in all likelihood will be given again by someone in 2022. The national debt, much like the Bible says in reference to the poor, will always be with us.

    Perhaps the great irony of his response is that in complimenting Obama as a role model, he couldn’t point to a state or a presidential candidate with a clear model, policy or philosophy that challenges the president , reduces the national debt and raises employment. “Passionate pro-growth” policies sounded much like what Americans have heard before, but what are they?

    Through it all, Daniels sounded like a Dutch uncle giving advice to Republican presidential candidates and recommending what they should be talking about on the campaign trail. To that extent, his response was closer to what they should be saying than what they will be as they head to the Florida primary and journey west.

    He spoke of a nation that potentially could be carried over a “Niagara” of debt because of its spending, but on the points that mattered, Obama was more convincing that the nation is doing anything but climbing inside a barrel and doing the shuffalo to the falls in Buffalo, N.Y.

    Kitchell is an award-winning columnist from Logansport.
  • LOGANSPORT - When we hear references such as “The Reagan Administration” or “The Gingrich House,” the pure definition of government takes on specific meanings.
    Like it or not, and sometimes through no fault of the people in charge, those references take on specific connotations.
    With the upcoming consideration of the Affordable Care Act and its constitutionality, Indiana’s U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts is about to define the connotation of what could be a long tenure on the court.
    What makes this one case a defining moment is that many on both sides of the aisle are calling on Justices Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagen to recuse themselves from considering the case. In Thomas’ instance in particular, it makes sense. Thomas appeared at a prominent event where the Affordable Care Act was opposed, and the event’s sponsor has clearly defined its position against it.
    Roberts’ worst gaffe so far as chief justice since he was appointed by former President George W. Bush is that he couldn’t remember President Obama’s name when he swore him into office. The mistake was so well known that Roberts and Obama restaged a private swearing-in ceremony so that anyone who ever questioned the legality of the presidency would have no doubts that Obama was indeed sworn into office.
    The scales of justice at any level below the Supreme Court are supposedly balanced by a blind woman who weighs evidence fairly. But Supreme Court justices have the same responsibility that lower court judges do if there appears to be a conflict of interest: they step aside. There is one thing we can say about the justice system in this country: We may not always get justice right, but we always have another attorney to represent someone or another judge to hear a case.
    In the case of the Affordable Care Act, there are clear political overtones. There are nine justices on the Supreme Court, and even without one from each party, an odd number of justices can clearly decide this issue without tainting the outcome because of perceived bias.
    The Supreme Court sets the standards of judicial fairness for this country, and Roberts sets the standard for the highest judges. What action he can take, if any, to encourage Thomas and perhaps Kagen to sit this one out, has to be taken. If not, Thomas and Roberts both will be reviled if they strike down the Affordable Care Act.
    More to the point, striking down the constitutionality of requiring Americans to have insurance may also have ramifications with other laws. Most motorists in this country are required to have auto insurance. If the Affordable Care Act is overturned, expect the constitutionality of auto insurance to be challenged, too.
    Meanwhile, back at the Affordable Care Act, if the verdict is anything but unanimous and if it is 5-4 or 4-3 if Thomas and Kagen recuse themselves, Roberts’ name will be forever linked to an historic case that could well define the health care debate in this country for the next 100 years.
    While we likely will never hear Roberts explain any conversations he has had with Thomas or Kagen about the case – unless memoirs are released after his death – we likely can say this case will define him as much as Bush v. Gore defined William Rehnquist or Roe v. Wade defined their predecessors.
    Roberts, a Long Beach, Ind., native, joined the court with an impeccable reputation, but maintaining it under these circumstances could pose his most difficult challenge in what could be a multi-decade tenure on the nation’s highest court.

    Kitchell is an award-winning columnist who is teaching journalism at Logansport HS.
  • LOGANSPORT - It’s symbolic that Congressmen and children are the people we most often associate with recess.

    Americans who followed the debt ceiling debate over the past month have to wonder if some of the people they elected are really more like children than adults. At the end of a tumultuous week in which our American conscience collectively had to be wishing Congress would put the country down before they broke it, an 11th hour deal to raise the debt ceiling was reached. But more questions than answers remain in the aftermath of a final vote before 435 legislators went home for the rest of the summer.

    It’s hard to find a winner in the aftermath of an historic, hot summer in Washington when Congress rushed through so many proposals and compromises it left millions invested in needed federal transportation projects in limbo on their way out of town. Whoops, that must have been the note in the “In Basket” for House Speaker John Boehner and Senate President Harry Reid. Meanwhile, the nation lost $400 million in ticket taxes because of a congressional snafu.

    It’s hard to find a winner in the debt ceiling debate. Tea Partiers? They didn’t get what they wanted, which was a balanced budget amendment – an impossible demand given the time constraints. Republicans? They didn’t get what they wanted. Even though they succeeded in preventing tax increases, that may be only temporary, depending on what a 12-member Congressional “super committee” recommends. Democrats? They didn’t get what they wanted either. They didn’t close loopholes, including the Bush tax cuts and a tax break for corporate jet manufacturers.

    The reality of this situation is that represents political theater and nothing more. For those who have been watching the debt situation closely over the past decade, there out to be outrage. During the Clinton Administration, a Democratic president and a Republican Congress quietly enabled the country to be on a track to pay off the national debt. Where have those days gone? What has transpired in Washington has done little to take us back a decade when there was realistic hope for ending our national debt.

    As Hoosiers know, even a balanced budget amendment here doesn’t really balance a budget. Some expenses can be delayed. Other obligations go unpaid, unfunded or substantially cut. Bonding enables some gaps to be covered. In the end, the “smoke and mirrors” people on both sides of the aisle refer to make up for shortfalls.

    As a percent of Gross Domestic Product, our debt is high, but not any higher than it was during World War II when we ended the Depression. And if we had defaulted on our debt, the similar experience in Russia and Argentina suggest the economy would have been stronger in a year.

    What this episode tells us is that the 12-member committee which eventually deals with this issue will have some serious clout and exposure. Feet will be held to the fire. But whether we as a nation are able to structure are income with our expenses is another matter. With wars ending, we have a realistic chance if there isn’t another Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 in the offing. That can happen if Americans who are unemployed or returning from military service are back on the payrolls and generating tax revenue. It can happen if American companies sitting on reserves are willing to take a chance on an economic recovery in which the automakers have already recovered. It can happen if the housing market can finally right itself and find the magnetic north of real home value and not the inflated values we became so accustomed to for the sake of refinancing and second mortgages.
    It can happen if we don’t default on what really matters in this country – stabilizing a peaceful nation so that it becomes more prosperous with infrastructure, education, health care and a goal of full employment, even if that goal isn’t attainable.

    To a certain extent, what we just witnessed in Washington was a game of chicken much like what we witnessed in late Hoosier James Dean’s role in “Rebel Without a Cause”. Some may remember the scene in which two teens play chicken with their hotrods – and one lost. In that movie, somebody went over a cliff. Last week, the nation could have, but we really witnessed the same kind of entertainment Dean gave us on the big screen. Congress gave it to us on our television screens, even if most members never saw the big picture of what needs to happen in this country.

    Kitchell is an award-winning columnist and regular HPI contributor based in Logansport.
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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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