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Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:32 PM
INDIANAPOLIS — Chances are good that someone you know and love is gay.
That’s the reality that Indiana lawmakers may need to face in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage and the coming political battle in Indiana to enshrine a separate status for gay people into our state constitution.
When Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in the historic decision striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, said the constitution’s guarantee of equality extended even to a “politically unpopular” group of Americans, he was writing about people you know and love.
Twenty years ago, you may not have admitted that was so. Most people didn’t, according to a 1994 poll by CNN that found less than one-third of those surveyed reported having a close relationship with a gay or lesbian person.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Timothy Molinari drove to the Statehouse early Monday with a long-shot hope that he could convince some Indiana electors to go rogue. It was not to be. Carrying a homemade sign that read, “Electors: Do the Right Thing,” the Terre Haute college student stood with a small but noisy group of protesters as all 11 of the state's electors cast votes for Republican Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence. Molinari deemed the process “corrupt” but left with a smile on his face. “I’m a person who likes to be at history,” he said. Monday’s vote was indeed historic as 538 members of the Electoral College across the nation cast ballots in a constitutionally mandated process that rarely captures much notice. Trump became just the fifth president in history to win the Electoral College vote despite losing the popular vote.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – State Democrats were hoping to celebrate a string of election victories at their annual holiday party here in the state capital. Instead the early December event will likely have a more somber tone as party leaders dissect what went wrong on Election Day. Democrats lost every statewide contest last Tuesday, including what were seen as competitive races for Senate and governor. Despite money and labor poured into a handful of legislative seats, the party failed to unlock the Republican super majority in the General Assembly, or make a dent in Republicans’ hold on seven of nine congressional seats. State Democratic Chairman John Zody blames the across-the-board losses on a tidal wave created by GOP President-elect Donald Trump. Late polls projected Trump to win the state by 6 to 10 points. Instead, he and his vice presidential candidate, Gov. Mike Pence, won by 19 points, more than 500,000 votes more than his losing opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. “That’s tough to overcome,” said Zody, who seemed as surprised as anyone by Trump’s strong pull on the down-ballot races.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  –  Republicans in Congress and President-elect Donald Trump have promised swift work to undo laws and orders written during the Obama administration, starting with the Affordable Care Act. Before that happens, one of the newest members of the U.S. Senate has some less flashy business in mind. U.S. Rep. Todd Young, elected Tuesday to fill the Senate seat vacated by the retiring Dan Coats, said he’s focused on what happens in Washington between now and January. The congressman from Bloomington specifically hopes to get a favored bill on welfare reform onto the agenda of the lame-duck session of Congress that starts next week. Young said the bill, which he authored, creates “social impact” partnerships to reward states for programs that move people from welfare into jobs. Passed unanimously in the House, it has support from Democrats in the Senate but has failed to move forward. “Frankly, that’s where my head is right now,” he told reporters over morning coffee Wednesday, just hours after a stunning election night spent here in Indianapolis.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Democrats buoyed by the prospect of retaking the governor’s office have their eyes on another prize at the Statehouse - breaking the Republicans’ super-majority hold on the General Assembly. On Tuesday, Democrats must flip five of 71 House seats now held by Republicans to crack the GOP’s two-thirds holds of the 100-member House. There is little chance of denting Republicans’ 40 to 10 super-majority in the Senate. Breaking the super-majority is significant. With two-thirds of the seats or more, Republicans have the quorum necessary to conduct business in both chambers, and pass any law, without a single Democrat even showing up. Republicans who’ve had the super-majority since 2012 take the threat to their coalition seriously, especially with recent polls showing Democrat John Gregg ahead of Republican Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb in the governor’s race, though the WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll on Friday shows the race a dead heat at 42%. As of mid-week, the state Republican House Campaign Committee had spent more than $1.4 million on a handful of key races – five times what the less-resourced House Democratic Caucus Committee had spent.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – U.S. Senate candidate Evan Bayh stood on a debate stage Tuesday night, facing accusations from his opponent that he’s a Washington insider who has lost his status as a Hoosier. It was familiar territory for him. In 1988, when running for governor, the Democrat Bayh defended himself against a Republican lawsuit that claimed the year-and-half he spent working in the nation’s capital disqualified him from seeking Indiana’s top office. Bayh weathered the storm, handily winning the race to end the GOP’s 20-year hold on the governor’s office. Now he’s hoping to retire the residency question again. A poll released just before Tuesday’s only debate among the Senate candidates shows voters may not care that Bayh has been living in Washington for the last six years. The Hoosier Survey found 71 percent of voters did not see Bayh’s residency as an issue. Only 21 percent said it would affect their decision of who should represent the state in the Senate. “It’s hard to say he’s not a Hoosier. He’s got the pedigree,” said political science professor Joe Losco, of Ball State University, which commissioned the poll with WISH-TV.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Two C’s and an F were the marks given by a group of high school debate students to three candidates for governor who met on a school stage Tuesday and were given the assignment of hashing out education issues. The candidates, Republican Eric Holcomb, Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rex Bell, left few distinctions among them. Political rhetoric and a lack of detailed answers to tough questions, including one about jobs for teens and another about college tuition for immigrants living illegally in the United States, left students saying they felt “cheated” by their choices to lead the state. “I feel like I was robbed of the opportunity to see an actual debate because everybody was agreeing with each other,” said Caleb Jones, 18. All three candidates backed the notion of getting rid of ISTEP, the state’s standardized test which has experienced multiple problems in recent years, including months-long delays in getting results to students and teachers. But none offered a detailed plan of what should replace it, other than a test that is shorter and quicker.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Democrat John Gregg met with an influential group of black pastors on Monday with plans to sell them on his jobs and education proposals, two big items in his standard pitch. Their first question wasn’t about his campaign for governor but instead what he thought of Gov. Mike Pence’s debut as Donald Trump’s running mate on “60 Minutes” the night before. “I didn’t even know he was on ‘60 Minutes,’” Gregg responded with exasperation. “I’m too laser-focused on my campaign.” The former speaker of the state House of Representatives, now making his second bid for governor, wishes others were, too. Instead, in what Gregg described as a “media frenzy,” much of the attention over the last week has focused on his former opponent’s departure from the governor’s race.The campaign is now awash in speculation over who the GOP’s hand-picked replacement for Pence will be. As the governor flew on a private jet to Cleveland to attend the Republican National Convention, where he was scheduled to speak Wednesday night, Gregg was telling reporters back home that his campaign strategy is locked in place. “I’ve always been running for governor and never running against Mike Pence,” he said. “And that’s what I’ll be doing, if it was Mike Pence or whomever the Republicans pick in their smoke-filled back room.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS - As speculation swirls around Gov. Mike Pence’s chances of becoming Donald Trump’s running mate, the man who managed Trump’s successful primary campaign in Indiana is ready to place his bets. “I’m 100 percent for Mike getting job, and I think it’s an 80 percent chance that he’s going to get the job,” said veteran political strategist Rex Early. Early offers the caveat that he’s had no contact with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Nor has he talked to anyone on the Trump campaign, for that matter, about his choice of a running mate. “It’s pure speculation on my part,” he said. “I don’t know anything.” But he’s happy to feed the din of speculation now that the Indiana governor and six-term congressman is mentioned on the VP short-list, having met with Trump over the weekend at a golf course in New Jersey.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Ellen Butz is the kind of swing voter that candidates both fear and covet. She calls herself a Democrat, but she's also a fiscal conservative and owner of a small business in the affluent suburban community of Zionsville, where Republicans have a political stronghold. She voted for Republican Mitch Daniels when he ran for Indiana governor last decade. This time around in the governor's race, she's planning on voting for Democrat John Gregg and she recently held a fund-raiser where both her Democratic and Republican women friends donated to the cause. Really, it's a no-brainer," she said, when asked how she picked her candidate. For her, incumbent GOP Gov. Mike Pence has gone too far to the right on social issues since in office, putting the state in a negative light by opposing same-sex marriage and defending a state "religious freedom" law that critics saw as a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians. His decision in March to sign a sweeping anti-abortion law - making Indiana the second state in the nation to ban the procedure if sought because of a fetal disability such as Down syndrome - sealed her decision.
  • INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana’s senior senator, Dan Coats, has openly been skeptical of the notion of Donald Trump as the leader of the free world. He’s never met the reality TV star, though he has tweeted about him, chiding Trump for putting “bombastic rhetoric over sound judgment.” So, Coats was surprised last week when he found his name floated as Trump’s perfect running mate. As reported in the inside-the-Beltway media outlet, Politico Playbook, by chief political correspondent Mike Allen, Coats is a favorite of unnamed GOP insiders for the job of Trump’s vice president. “I was as surprised as you, or probably anybody else was,” Coats said. Coats isn’t a reader of Politico Playbook, an online report that bills itself as the source for the most important political stories of the day. But his staff is. And since Allen is considered one of the best-connected reporters in D.C. – the New York Times described him as “The Man the White House Wakes Up To” – Coats’ staff figured there must be something to it.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - It’s no fluke that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stopped by Lucchese’s Italian restaurant outside Elkhart on a barnstorming tour of Indiana this past week. The family-owned eatery is a local landmark. Located on a busy county road, it was started more than 30 years ago by a firefighter who'd learned how to cook for his firehouse crew. It's now managed by his son, a Republican county commissioner, and frequented by conservative GOP Congresswoman Jackie Walorksi when she’s in town. Owner Frank Lucchese confessed to being a John Kasich fan in the presidential primary race, but he understood why the Cruz campaign wanted to stop there. A crowd quickly assembled to greet him. “We’re a place everybody knows,” Lucchese said. Same goes for the historic Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor in Columbus, first opened in 1900, where Cruz's young daughters ordered whipped cream-topped sundaes while he shook hands with voters and happily posed for selfies.
  • HARTFORD CITY – Straw polls aren’t perfect predictors of presidential elections, but one taken the other night at a ham dinner for rural Republicans may offer some insight. Of the three GOP candidates – Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and businessman Donald Trump – no one won outright. Votes cast by less-than-enthusiastic applause by about 100 patrons of the Lincoln Day Dinner in Blackford County sounded evenly split. That didn’t surprise former county GOP Chairman Andy Dudleston. He’s a Kasich supporter who sees the Ohio governor as the most presidential of the lot. But, given how well Dudleston knows his county from his time helping turn it from true-blue Democrat to reliably-red Republican, he’s not forecasting a winner in the May 3 primary. “I haven’t got a clue,” he said. Blackford County, on the surface, seems like rich territory for the socially conservative Cruz, who laces speeches with references to his faith. On the edge of this small county and its mostly farming community sits Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college. It’s just down the highway from church-sponsored Indiana Wesleyan University.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Union steelworker Pam Presley was so sure that she would support Hillary Clinton for president, she bought an “I’m Ready for Hillary” T-shirt a year ago. That was before Bernie Sanders entered the race. On Tuesday, Presley, 49, showed up at a Sanders campaign event wearing the Clinton shirt but with “Hillary” crossed out and replaced with the word “Bernie” emblazoned in sparkling silver. “As soon as he declared, I told myself, ‘I’ve got to fix that shirt,’ ” Presley said. The Indianapolis mother was among a small crowd of activists at a Tuesday breakfast meant to rally volunteers for the Vermont senator, who late last week became the first presidential candidate to set up shop in Indiana. With a staff of 20 now on the ground, Sanders' staff here just opened a headquarters in Indianapolis and plans to follow with a half-dozen offices in smaller cities this week. They were welcomed by the candidate's supporters, who haven't seen a closely contested presidential primary in Indiana since 2008 when Clinton narrowly defeated then-candidate Barack Obama. “I thought I had to support Hillary because she was a woman,” Presley said. “But I decided I needed to go with someone I really believe in.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Pharmacists will soon have a legal right to stop suspicious customers from buying cold medicines that can be used to “cook” homemade methamphetamine. A bill passed in the waning hours of the Legislature's annual meeting was championed by local pharmacists and police from rural communities that are burdened with toxic meth labs. “I think we’re going to see a major reduction in meth labs in this state,” said Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, a small-town pharmacist who’s seen Indiana rise to lead the nation in meth lab busts. The measure met fierce opposition from large chain retailers who sell pseudoephedrine cold medicine. And it stops short of what police and prosecutors have long sought - an outright ban on over-the-counter sales of the medicine. Instead, the bill puts pharmacists in the role of gatekeeper. It allows them to sell the current legal amount of pseudoephedrine to customers whom they know and trust.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – When Indiana voters were asked in 1970 to amend the state Constitution to allow legislators to meet annually, rather than every other year, they were assured it was for good reason. An added, 10-week “short” session in even-numbered years would let lawmakers deal with emergencies or minor, time-sensitive corrections to laws passed in the longer, 16-week sessions that met in odd-numbered years. Voters said yes to the idea strongly backed by legislative leaders. Two years later, in the Legislature's first annual “short” session since 1850, lawmakers filed more than 800 bills. On review, plenty seemed worthy, like raising fishing license fees for out-of-state anglers, though not exactly emergencies. Lawmakers have been cramming a lot of work into their short sessions ever since. About 800 bills were filed again in this year's session, slated to close March 10. The job is no longer that of a “part-time citizen legislator” that Indiana’s forefathers conceived 200 years ago when they drafted the state's Constitution at the former capitol in Corydon. Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, for example, says she’s leaving a job, at age 81, that much’s different than it was when she walked into Statehouse as a member of the House 38 years ago. “Back then, I’d might get 40 letters or phone calls from constituents in a week,” she said. “Now, I’m getting hundreds of emails in a day. I feel an obligation to respond to them all, but I can’t.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – On paper, Republican operative Eric Holcomb’s first political job was working for a U.S. congressman. But his duties with the NATO Joint Force Command may be most instructive for his chosen career. Stationed as a naval intelligence officer in Lisbon, Holcomb helped coordinate a multi-nation, simulated attack against an imaginary enemy. “It was the most political job I ever had,” he said. “Can you imagine trying to get 16 nations to arrive at a consensus? And they were allies.” Holcomb, 47, is about to step into another kind of combat where consensus-building will be critical. Later this week he’ll be sworn in as the state's 51st lieutenant governor, as current Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann steps down. In taking the role, Holcomb also becomes running mate to Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who faces a tough re-match against Democrat John Gregg – whom he narrowly defeated four years ago – and deep divisions within his own party.

  • INDIANAPOLIS - The Rev. Charles Harrison is used to spending his nights on crime-ridden streets, working to keep the state’s capital city from seeing another record year of homicides. But on Tuesday evening, the Methodist pastor and Jeffersonville native was in the office of Gov. Mike Pence, chatting casually with the state’s chief executive shortly before his State of the State address. It wasn’t their first meeting. Harrison, whose brother and nephew were murdered in separate incidents of drug-related violence, heads the 10 Point Coalition. The ecumenical group of clergy and ex-convicts patrol what are some of the most violent neighborhoods in the nation – just blocks from the Indiana Statehouse – to preach peace and bring calm. The Republican governor has met privately with Harrison, as he’s searched for solutions to combat the state’s surging heroin and methamphetamine problems and the crime that comes with them. “This is a human problem. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue," Harrison said. "And we have to be willing to put aside politics to do what’s in the best interest of people most affected by this violence.”
  • PERU, Ind. – Ethan Manning can trace his interest in politics to the day he checked out the book “Facts and Fun about Presidents” from this small town’s library and quickly became a fan of Teddy Roosevelt. By age 9, he was following the presidential race and wishing he was old enough to vote for George W. Bush. At 18, he was traveling the state and stumping for GOP congressional candidates. At 21, he was staffing a district office for U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, before moving onto to stump for Gov. Mike Pence. And, at 22, he was elected chairman of the local Republican Party in his home county. Last year, voters put him on the Miami County Council. “I think I was born a Republican,” said Manning, now 23. He plans to stay that way, as he juggles his paying job as an auctioneer and real estate broker -- plus work on the family cattle farm. He aspires to higher office in years to come. But he also worries that his party isn’t doing enough to keep people like him - millennials, ages 19 to 30, who are far less likely than older generations to identify as Republicans. “We need to be a lot more inclusive as a party,” said Manning. “I believe in the ‘big tent’ philosophy.”
  • TERRE HAUTE – Worn-out roads weren’t on Toby Daggett’s mind when he pulled his 1996 Chevy Cavalier into a Jiffy Mini-Mart on Tuesday. He had enough cash in his pocket to buy a soda and about two gallons of gas to get his daughter to school and back for a few days. Unemployed and disabled, Daggett said he can’t afford an increase in gas taxes even if the extra pennies help fill potholes and repair bridges. “Can’t they get the money to fix the roads from someplace else?” he said. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence thinks so. On Tuesday, he announced a plan to spend $1 billion in new funding for state highways and bridges over the next four years without raising taxes. Under increasing political pressure, Pence instead proposes pulling money from several sources, including the state’s surplus and general fund, to combine with borrowed dollars. “Indiana is committed to ensuring we have the infrastructure for our families and our communities and our state to prosper,” he said at a press conference.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Back in 1998, then-candidate Bob Cherry made a promise never to raise taxes on Indiana residents for the life of his political career. Now, years later as Indiana needs billions of new tax dollars to fix its crumbling roads and bridges, he wonders if he made a mistake. “How can we make good public policy for the future if we’re tied to the past?” said Cherry, one of 27 Indiana lawmakers who’ve signed the Americans for Tax Reform’s so-called taxpayer protection pledge. The pledge, created in 1986 by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, locks its signatories into a promise never to create new taxes or to raise existing ones as long the pledge-maker holds public office. Cherry and other Republican office-holders happily signed on, he said, to demonstrate their commitment to fiscal conservatism. But now the promise feels like a chokehold, especially in light of the indefinite shutdown of a portion of the heavily traveled Interstate 65 near Lafayette, due to a deteriorating bridge sinking into the ground.
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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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