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Tuesday, May 23, 2017
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Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:28 PM
ANGOLA, Ind. – These past few weeks, we’ve seen yet another example of sclerosis in Washington, this time with the farm bill. On a topic that begged for compromise, everyone dug in, and there was celebration in some quarters even as they were spitting the ashes out of their mouths.
    
Next up comes the immigration package, with House Republicans overwhelmingly balking Wednesday at the Senate passed bill despite warnings from Speaker John Boehner about the political consequences.
Later this year, we’ll get another debt limit faux crisis.
    
It is a city of gangs who can’t shoot straight, of rhetoric akin to methane gas seeping out of a melting tundra. Gallup has congressional approval at 10 percent, yet another historic low.
    
LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo’s column on page 1 hits a number of points that are resonating. And it underscores a recent piece by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks on what he calls the “power inversion,” the rise of city states and regional governments that fill the void left by the partisan polarization in Washington.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - In the eyes of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the emerging scandal of Russian collusion with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the sprawling investigations peeling off in its wake are as much of a wakeup call as, perhaps, the Russian Revolution that transpired a century ago. “If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it,” Clapper testified before Congress on May 8. In President Trump’s view, the probes are “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Trump’s outrage at the Russia probe, which challenges the legitimacy of his stunning upset last November, prompted him to impulsively fire FBI Director James Comey last week. Trump told NBC: "When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said 'you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won'."

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

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

  • INDIANAPOLIS – The gold standards of first General Assembly success for a modern Hoosier rookie governor must be measured against the years 1973, 1981, 1989, 1997, 2005 and 2013. Mining down into that history, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s first foray stacks up well against Gov. Doc Bowen’s tax reforms, Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s Conseco Fieldhouse deal and workers’ compensation reform, and Gov. Mitch Daniels passing Daylight Saving Time along with the creation of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and Northwest Indiana’s Regional Development Authority. Holcomb had two Republican super majorities to work with, allowing him to opt into some of the groundwork already forged on his 20-year road and infrastructure plan that had been championed by Speaker Brian Bosma and House Transportation Chairman Ed Soliday last year. Signed into law by Holcomb on Thursday, HEA 1002 will provide $900 million in new annual funding for state roads by 2024 and sees a $300 million increase for local roads during that time span. By year 20 of the plan, investment for state roads will come out to average $1.2 billion, with $775 million for local roads each year.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Where have you gone Jim Jontz, Jill Long, Frank McCloskey, John Brademas, John Hiler, Baron Hill, Mike Sodrel, John Hostettler, and Chris Chocola? These are names on the list of Hoosier members of Congress who ended their political careers in defeat over the past three decades. Unless there are extraordinary political waves, the way Indiana’s electoral process is trending, the congressional upset of the future could become a rare event. Earlier this month, the Cook Political Report issued the 2017 version of the Cook Partisan Index and there are only two Indiana districts in the single digit range. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky’s 1st Congressional District is +8 Democratic, and U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks’ 5th CD is +9 Republican. The previous competitive district, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski’s 2nd CD, went from a +6 Republican in 2014 to a +11 Republican this year. Remember the Bloody 8th? It’s not so bloody anymore. When Cook came out with its first index in 1998, U.S. Rep. Hostettler, who had upset Democrat McCloskey four years prior, sat in a +2.5 Republican district. It was +8 Republican in 2014 and is now a +15 Republican district today.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – If there’s been a curve ball in this waning session of the General Assembly, it’s been the Ricker’s cold beer controversy. And if key players aren’t careful, this could signal a populist uprising in the age of Amazon, Trump and the anti-regulation fervor that has swept Indiana and the nation. There is significant danger for the package liquor store industry and their lobby. As they attempt to defend the status quo, they risk an array of collateral damage. For instance, their attempts to thwart Ricker’s in their legally obtained licenses at two stores in Columbus and Sheridan, they took aim at the Indiana Alcohol Tobacco Commission, and drew in Gov. Eric Holcomb, who up until this past month had been “laser focused” on his five-point agenda that didn’t include cold beer. Instead, he stepped in to defend the conduct of this commission. It created headlines over the past month and drew populist sentiments. Look no further than state Senate candidate Gary Snyder, who will challenge freshman Sen. Andy Zay, when he posted on Facebook, “As your next state senator, I will not vote to regulate the temperature of the beer you buy or what days you can buy it.” That could be the beginning of a 2018 cycle trend as Democrats attempt to claw back into relevance.
        
  • 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.”
  • 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.”
            
  • 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.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Years ago my late journalist colleague Harrison J. Ullmann of NUVO Newsweekly used to chide the Indiana General Assembly by frequently calling it “America’s worst legislature.” But I have to tell ya, after watching the three-ring circus in Washington, in institutions we call the White House, the House and the Senate over the past two months, when it comes to truthful, adult leadership, where prioritized legislation is based on sound research, datasets and metrics, I’ll take the Indiana General Assembly any day. When it comes to civility, transparency and earnest policy-making, the Indiana Statehouse comes off as a haven of mature leadership compared with the so-called “big leagues” inside the Washington beltway. Can you imagine Gov. Eric Holcomb making fun of a disabled reporter or calling out “Lyin’ John Gregg?” Can you imagine Senate President David Long swearing on the chamber floor, or saying he could go shoot someone on Meridian Street and win more votes? Can you imagine Speaker Brian Bosma suggesting an opponent’s father played a role in a presidential assassination, or making fun of overweight people from the well of the Indiana House?
  • MUNCIE – President Trump sits in the White House today because, in part, Democrats ceded rural Indiana and rural America. The Hoosier State is barely functioning in a two-party system. I asked Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody for a list of county chairs elected on March 3. According to a party spread sheet, Daviess, Gibson, Martin and Henry counties listed no chair. Mine down a bit further and you see Donald Trump won Daviess County with 79.6 percent of the vote, 71.6 percent in Gibson, 69.2 percent in Henry and 76.9 percent in Martin. This is all relevant because during the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump vowed repeatedly and vociferously to repeal and replace Obamacare. In January, Trump promised “terrific” coverage “for everybody.” The new Health and Human Services Sec. Tom Price vowed that “nobody will be worse off financially” with the plan proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and is being pushed by Vice President Mike Pence.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – In politics, first and last impressions are impactful. Through that prism we view the four-year term of Gov. Mike Pence. The final impressions of Gov. Pence will enter the playbook for future governors. Following the 2016 General Assembly session, Pence essentially checked out as a full-time governor. There were no media avails following sine die. A heroin epidemic raged across the state with hundreds of overdoses and Pence was silent. More than 1,000 East Chicago Hoosiers were uprooted from their homes due to a lead contamination crisis, and the Pence administration mustered $100,000, but no visit or empathy. The I-69 Section 5 road project stalled between Bloomington and Martinsville, and Pence was silent. His governorship stands out as the only one to attain office with less than 50% of the vote in more than half a century. Pence became one of the most polarizing governors in modern times. His favorables in the WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana poll were upside down. In the last head-to-head with Democrat John Gregg in April 2016, Pence had a 4 percent lead, but his fav/unfavs stood at 44/41 percent. Those kind of numbers for incumbents usually define a looming defeat. Little wonder that he pursued the vice presidential nomination with great zeal. The Pence legacy will be bookended by two key cornerstones: The economy thrived during his tenure, with the state reaching record employment while the jobless rate declined by more than 4%. But Donald Trump exploited an economic angst that seemed to collide with Pence’s metrics. His own reelection prospects were compromised by social issues he didn’t seek, but couldn’t resist signing.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Vice President Mike Pence has always taken the so-called “long view” when it comes to his career. After losing two congressional races in the late 1980s, he settled into a think tank and broadcasting career, then went to Congress in 2001.  In 2011, he mulled a presidential bid for the following year, then focused on becoming Indiana’s 50th governor. There was the potential for a 2016 White House campaign. Some believe that his signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act knocked him out, but others say he knew the crowded field left him only a slender path to the nomination. The clearer path was to get on the presidential ticket, and from May through July 2016, he executed a savvy strategy, wooing Donald Trump when dozens of other Republicans took a pass. When the veep nomination flickered on July 14, he boarded a charter jet and retrieved the prize.
        
  • INDIANAPOLIS – There was a rapping, rapping at my chamber door and when I peeked out, there was NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw. “You’ve got shingles!” Bradshaw said and he started to take off his shirt. I told him how disappointed I was the Chicago Bears didn’t get to draft him in 1969 and then asked him to calm down and leave his shirt on. I learned that I didn’t have shingles, but nearby 79th Street does. So does Dean Road, and Allisonville Road, and Central Avenue and . . . . These are expanding patches of local roads with bumpy dollops of asphalt, filling a multitude of pot holes. Legendary Chicago columnist Mike Royko used to write about paying the “victim tax.” In general parlance, it meant getting mugged, having your car stolen or your apartment burglarized. Hoosier motorists have been on a similar trajectory. We pay the “axle tax” or the “rim tax” or the “muffler tax.” It’s the collateral damage your car or truck takes from Indiana’s deteriorating roads. My Subaru Outback has a plastic part dangling in the wheel well after a winter of pot hole dodging. But Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long have a plan. It’s called House Bill 1002 and it will create a 20-year road plan with several new funding mechanisms.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – We’ve had two presidents of the television age who were serial liars. From 1972 through 1974, President Richard Nixon repeatedly lied about the Watergate scandal. In 1998 it was President Bill Clinton who told us “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." It didn’t end particularly well for either of them. Clinton was impeached but acquitted and Nixon resigned just before impeachment. There is immense danger when presidents lie. America is now a week into its experiment with the populist President Donald Trump. It comes as the “post-truth” presidential race has morphed into an administration operating on, as senior advisor Kellyanne Conway termed it, “alternative facts.” Trump supporters frequently say he was “telling it like it is,” but that really means he is conveying perceptions as opposed to facts. Conway had advised prior to the inaugural that the media shouldn’t seek the Trumpian truth through his words, but through his heart. So this will be a tough challenge if you’re a reporter, a congressman, a governor or a citizen who needs to believe their president.

  • ZIONSVILLE - Eric Holcomb was riding the whirlwind in 2016. The day I finally caught up with the incoming 51st governor of Indiana for a road trip began with a cruise up I-65 for a job announcement in Merrillville, and it ended with a 100-mph beeline in an Indiana State Police Chevy Tahoe down U.S. 31 as Kokomo laid in tatters following a rare August tornado. Holcomb began the year as a third-place U.S. Senate candidate followed by a series of right time/right place scenarios that thrust him into the governor’s office. When Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann resigned, Gov. Mike Pence found in Holcomb a former chairman of the Republican Party who could patch the GOP together following the divisive social issues of 2015. By early July, Pence was being courted by Donald Trump for the presidential ticket.

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - The brute force of weapons with the potential to wipe out mankind has been balanced by a wide strata of interlocking elements, nuance, perception and predictability over the past half century. There was a reason Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev had a sculpture of a goose on his Kremlin desk, a reminder that such a flock once set off his nation’s early alarm system. It is that system, manned by lieutenant colonel level officers who must make quick decisions on credible threats before passing them up the powerchain, that has flirted with catastrophe on a scale where Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mere drops in the bucket. Mutually Assured Destruction never became the epic chain reaction because with Soviet, then Russian Federation, and American leadership, there was a level of predictability following the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. So it was with significant and general alarm this past week when President-elect Donald Trump announced via Twitter that he thinks a nuclear arms race is a good idea. 
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - In the autumn of 2015, Indiana Republican National Committeeman John Hammond III was the first to broach the idea that Americans were open to electing a “strongman” as president, the observation coming as Donald Trump was rising in the polls. Voters were yearning for an American version of Vladimir Putin. Why? America is becoming browner, older, while the workforce with a huge emphasis of “shareholder profits” is moving toward an era that will not sustain the middle class as we know it. A 2013 Oxford University study shows that some 47 percent of American jobs could be lost due to artificial intelligence and automation. Say goodbye to the branch bank and the grocery checkout clerk. A 2016 study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that 9 percent of jobs would be completely displaced in the next two decades. These are seeds for political unrest on a scale far, far beyond 2016.

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – Back in March, when most couldn’t fathom the notion of “President-elect Trump,” I wrote a column comparing the Manhattan mogul to Phineas Taylor Barnum. The Indiana presidential primary was just taking shape but I could sense his potential for a Republican nomination. Comparing Trump to P.T. Barnum was because the two, separated by more than a century in time, had a unique love for “the show.” Wikipedia describes Barnum as an “American politician, showman, and businessman remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus. He once said, “I am a showman by profession ... and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.” Trump loves the show too. He doesn’t read books and is not interested in intelligence briefings. He gets his news from “the shows” and he loves beauty pageants and starred in his own show, “The Apprentice” with the famous line, “You’re fired!” He turned the 2016 election cycle into the most sensational reality show in history, ending with a stunning presidential upset on Nov. 8. It promises to get exponentially impactful as he brews an administration. On Dec. 1, he and Vice President-elect Mike Pence brought this “show” to Indianapolis to save Carrier jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - For 50 years, from 1963 to 2013, there was either a Bayh or a Lugar representing Indiana in the U.S. Senate. Birch and Evan Bayh won five elections, while Dick Lugar lost a 1974 showdown with the elder Bayh, then rattled off six victories. All told, these two dynasties accrued close to 15 million votes. A good part of their combined successes were prodigious political and state organizations that raised the bucks, stroked allies as well as the media, and dealt swift retribution for anyone who got out of line. There was an obsession for detail. I remember as a political reporter for the Elkhart Truth in 1988 when Evan Bayh was running for governor, my phone rang and there was Bayh’s campaign manager, Joe Hogsett, on the line. “How ya doing’?” he asked. “What are you working on. Anything I can help you with as far as our campaign goes?” The political careers of the two Bayhs and Lugar, all once invincible, ended in defeat.

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  • Rokita and Messer's growing 'feud'
    “Messer is attacking me for using my small prop plane to travel Indiana meeting Hoosiers – the same plane I use doing charity work for wounded veterans and sick children. He's questioning my ethics. However, as the reporter notes, I have done nothing unethical and followed all relevant laws.” - U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly on the developing “feud” between he and his potential GOP U.S. Senate rival, U.S. Rep. Luke Messer.
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  • The smirking Russians are laughing at us, literally
    NBC’s Peter Alexander’s report Friday night on NBC Nightly News was enough to get my blood boiling. In the wake of President Trump’s tin optic Oval Office meeting with Russian envoys the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey, Trump told the Russians that Comey was a “nut job” and that the “pressure" of the Russian probe has been “taken off.” Alexander panned to a press conference by a “smirking” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who accused the American press and Congress of “political schizophrenia.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian diplomats were seen laughing. Folks, the Russians aren’t laughing with us, they are laughing at us. Pathetic. - Brian A. Howey, Publisher
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