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

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

Think about this for a minute: If the Indiana State Board of Education had really been holding Bennett accountable like it is holding Glenda Ritz accountable now, the Christel House controversy may never have happened in the first place. But the board didn’t.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Gorgeous women trying to make it big in Hollywood. The casting couch. Men abusing their power and position. The fact that so many assaults have happened to women (and some men) that are familiar to us through their fame and celebrity leaves many nonplussed. Others have been compelled to tell their personal stories of assault and victimization. In Indiana, no one should be surprised. Here, even our littlest kids face sexual assault and rape every day, and we are not doing nearly enough to help. In fact, the problem is getting worse and worse. We must stop describing these problems and get to work on preventing them. If you need convincing, just count up the cases of sexually-transmitted diseases of all kinds in kids aged zero to five being treated at urgent care clinics and emergency rooms across our state. Children may not know how to report these crimes, yet sometimes they bear the evidence in horrible and life-altering ways. Here in Indiana, we should know better. These kids aren’t famous. They are our neighbors and relatives, friends of our own children; people we talk to every day, and wave to at the bus stop. One in six girls in Indiana is raped or sexually assaulted by the time they leave high school here. One in five faces assault on our college campuses.
  • SOUTH BEND –  Mel Hall is a data guy. When he was chief executive officer of Press Ganey, the South Bend firm grew to collect data for more than half of the hospitals in the nation on consumer evaluations. Hall had this sign in his office: “In God we trust. All others bring data.” So, it’s no surprise that Hall commissioned a poll for data on political prospects in Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District before announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in that district, now represented by Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. Hall says the poll shows that the 10-county district is indeed Republican flavored, as intended when it was drawn in Republican-controlled redistricting. The GOP advantage in percentages, he says, could be “plus 9, plus 10, plus 11.” Of his chances of defeating Walorski, Hall concedes that strictly on the basis of the political data, “It’s not a slam dunk; it’s not likely.”
  • BLOOMINGTON – Our political system appears dysfunctional and occasionally on the verge of breakdown. But however dire things appear in Washington, I believe we have it within us to set the country back on a productive track. I’ve been reminded recently of the old cowboy song, “Home on the Range.” You know the line, “Where never is heard a discouraging word”? That is not the United States right now. Pretty much everywhere I turn, all I hear is discouragement. Our institutions of government are paralyzed. We face serious national problems with no effective response in sight – or even, in some cases, an acknowledgement that a problem exists. We’re fighting over racism, identity, security and culture. Our political system appears dysfunctional and occasionally on the verge of breakdown. All of this is serious. But the question we have to confront is not, “What’s going wrong?” It’s, “How do we respond?” Or, at the risk of seeming hopelessly out of step with the national mood, “How do we set about making a great country still greater?”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – “Week after week. Don’t you get depressed or bored telling us about Indiana’s problems and shortcomings?” That was Faye of the Forest, a sprite sitting on the rail of the deck overlooking our trees and creek. Her newly blue and blonde hair was down to her shoulders in ringlets. “Why the change in hair color?” I asked. “To celebrate Indiana,” she answered. “And I want to impress the governor when I see him with the fierce idealism of the Hoosier forest people.” “Yes, you’ve had some success recently saving forested land in Indianapolis,” I said. “Don’t forget the comprehensive urban forest maintenance program we’ve initiated in Highland,” she boasted. “It’s going to remove and replace rotted trees, keep older neighborhoods beautiful and sustain property values.”
  • KOKOMO – Beware,  Indiana legislators! There’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing lurking around, looking for the opportunity to circumvent Republican electoral success. The sheep’s clothing in this case is the benign sounding Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting. The wolf or wolves here in Indiana are the Democrat Party, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, Hoosier Environmental Council, Citizens Action Coalition, ACLU, NAACP, Indiana Farmers Union, Jobs for Justice and Moral Mondays. Back in the old days, when Democrats held the governor’s office and the Indiana House, there was no incessant drumbeat for redistricting reform coming from the media, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. The only reason that redistricting reform has become the current cause du jour is that since 2010 Republicans have been giving Democrats a serious thumping all over the country.

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - A national Quinnipiac Poll released this week puts President Trump’s approval/disapproval at 38/56 percent. Voters say 55-43 percent that he is “not fit” to serve as president. A Morning Consult Poll conducted in Indiana on Sept. 26 shows Trump’s approval/disapproval has declined from 55.3/33 percent in January to 49.8/44.9 percent. This comes less than a year after he carried the state by 19 percent. Why, why, why? Let’s review quotes and events from this past week, starting with the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico.  Three weeks after Category 5 Hurricane Maria made landfall, 16 percent of Puerto Rico's residents have electricity; 63 percent have access to clean drinking water; and 60 percent of wastewater treatment plants are operating, according to FEMA and the Department of Defense. More than 40 percent of bank branches aren’t open and 560 ATMs are functioning for an island with a population of more than 3.4 million. Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence visited the embattled island and vowed, “We stand with you and we will be with you every step of the way. We will reach every community and bring aide to every Puerto Rican in need.” But in a Category 5 Tweetstorm Thursday morning, President Trump said, "Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making. We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” For the record, FEMA spent almost a decade dealing with the fallout of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi after that Category 3 storm made landfall.

  • WASHINGTON – The Wall Street Journal recently ranked Purdue University as the fifth-best public school in the nation and the 43rd overall. That’s heady recognition but not enough to attract much attention from Hoosier politicians. In the political world, there are plenty of volatile issues for members of Congress to navigate. They step gingerly into the fray, making sure to emphasize the message of the day that will be most helpful to them. That’s what makes something like Purdue’s ranking an inviting respite. To use an analogy based on Indiana’s favorite sport, it’s a layup for a lawmaker who wants to promote good news about the state. Why not celebrate Purdue’s once again placing highly in the Journal’s ratings? But only one member of the Indiana congressional delegation said anything. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd CD, tweeted: “Not surprised that Purdue is thriving with @purduemitch at the helm.” Indeed, the WSJ’s ranking is another example of how Purdue is advancing since Daniels took over as president nearly five years ago. One thing Daniels hasn’t been able to change, however, is the fact that Purdue continues to be overshadowed by Indiana University when it comes to adoration from Indiana politerati, despite the fact that Daniels himself came to Purdue from the top of the Hoosier political mountain following his two terms as governor. At this point, I have to make a full disclosure: I’m a Purdue partisan. I’m a proud alum and an annual donor.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Every time adults and children are gunned down in a school or theater or music venue, Republicans run and hide behind the 2nd Amendment. It was no different a week ago when 59 were killed and hundreds wounded at a concert in Las Vegas. Is it time for new gun laws? Well, maybe, perhaps in the future, but not now is the response from Republicans. We certainly don’t want to upset the National Rifle Association, Republicans say. Americans have a right to bear arms because, well, the British might be coming. And, the standard Republican argument is that tougher gun laws won’t stop the kind of thing that happened in Las Vegas or Sandy Hook. Something has to be done because 96 people die in America each day because of gun violence. That doesn’t say much about the most powerful country in the world. This is how President Donald Trump put it when dodging the issue of gun reform. “We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by,” Trump said.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Last week in this space we reported on the poor performance of Indiana in terms of adding jobs (47th in the nation) and advancing incomes (48th). This week we’ll go down to the county level and see where there are bright spots and where conditions are dismal. The rate of change in the number of jobs is a measure of economic success the press and politicos have identified as important. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports, from 2005 to 2015, jobs in the nation grew, by 5.9%. Through that recession and recovery, Indiana jobs increased by just 2.3%. Yet 16 Indiana counties surpassed that national rate. Of those 16 counties, four (Bartholomew, Decatur, Sullivan and White) stand out because they also saw average compensation for jobs grow faster than the nation’s 9%. These four are the super stars of a difficult decade.
  • ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Take President Reagan’s “11th Commandment” (Thou shalt not criticize another Republican) and shove it. The Big Tent GOP is following Ringling Brothers into oblivion. There is a civil war brewing in the Republican Party and the revolt is fomenting … in the warrens of Vice President Mike Pence. Ever since that early summer day in 2015 when Donald Trump descended on an escalator to declare his bid for the presidency, the Republican Party has been torn. Trump won a hostile takeover nomination in the Indiana presidential primary in May 2016 with only Rex Early and Sullivan County Chairman Bill Springer as his conspicuous Hoosier advocates. When Pence joined the ticket, Hoosiers came around. What we’ve witnessed since has been an unprecedented Kabuki theater with the GOP presidential nominee bragging about the size of various body parts, the ability of the famous to grope female anatomy, and even a hint of martial law when Trump accepted the GOP nomination in Cleveland by saying, “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored. I alone can fix it.”

  • FORT WAYNE – President Trump has been racking up some political wins these recent weeks. The fact that he often talks like some crude guy sitting at a bar rather than the president of the United States can obscure his successes. So can the obsessive desire of his critics that he is seen as failing in everything. The pundits tried to explain away Trump’s rise in polls by saying it was because he cut a deal with Schumer and Pelosi. That’s just silly. The Democrats who view him as a sexist, racist, war-monger and buffoon would not respond to a pollster that he is doing a good job even if you pulled off every one of their fingernails.  Which raises the critical point that there is no evidence that in a re-vote for president that the Democrats would win. The ups and downs in the polls are caused by the voters who supported Trump even though he was not their preference. Let me go through some “victories” for Trump for which he gets little credit, and which many political pundits seem to think are losses. He understands that he has to keep the two major parts of the side that doesn’t want Democrats to govern somewhat united even if the so-called analysts do not understand this. Thus some victories look like losses to the biased.  
  • COLUMBIA CITY – Vice President Mike Pence journeyed back home to Indiana last Friday to make his pitch for President Trump’s emerging tax reform plan. “The good news is the Senate’s close to moving forward with legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare as we speak,” Pence told a crowd in Anderson in his old congressional district. “President Trump and I firmly believe that the Graham-Cassidy bill is the right bill at the right time to repeal and replace Obamacare.” But there was a problem. Simultaneously U.S. Sen. John McCain announced he couldn’t support the plan, 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.” It was the death knell. If there’s a déjà vu feel to this, you only have to go back to July when Pence spent hours just off the Senate floor twisting McCain’s arm to support another Senate Obamacare repeal/replace plan. McCain did the same thing, citing no hearings, no amendments, and tens of millions losing coverage. Zap! The vice president ardently believes that most Americans hate Obamacare - and many do - but a CBS Poll on Graham/Cassidy showed 20 percent support, with only 18 percent of independents and just 46 percent of Republicans.
  • LaPORTE – There comes a time in every elected official’s career when they’ve got to stand up and do the right thing, politics or ideology be damned. The recent vote that extended the country’s debt limit while passing desperately needed hurricane relief was one such  vote and on that standard, Reps. Todd Rokita, Luke Messer and Jackie Walorski all failed the test miserably. It doesn’t take Democrats like myself to call them out. I leave that to one of their fellow Republican members of the U.S. House – Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas who serves as the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who said very clearly to his fellow members of the Republican caucus that a “yes” vote was absolutely needed for this country’s disaster and relief fund “to keep it solvent because FEMA is going through half a billion dollars a day” in Texas and would soon be forced to tend to suffering and flooding in Florida. Put simply, the GOP head of Homeland Security called a vote against this package “unconscionable.” As McCaul put it so well, “when I had people dying and hurting in my home state, it was my duty and moral obligation to help them.” Todd, Luke and Jackie oughta to look in the mirror and ask themselves how they are going to explain their votes the next time they see Chairman McCaul or any other members from Florida or Texas in the hallway.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Finance is confusing, manufacturing is inspiring, retail is risky, but construction is so …. permanent. What we build shapes lives for generations. We identify with the built environment. It opens us to the world and constrains our behavior in that world. Construction is so fragmented. We know the few big firms in automotive manufacturing, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, food processing, etc. But can you name the top firms in building highways, sanitary sewers, homes, offices, pipelines, airports? Construction is local and layered with sub-contractors. The company that excavates does not do the paving, paint the lane markings or install the signage. Government regulations are everywhere, yet is the oversight and enforcement adequate? Labor shortages abound, despite union and non-union, public and private training programs. For Indiana, 2015 federal statistics show 13,000 construction establishments with 117,000 employees. That’s 9% of all business establishments and 4.4% of all employees. And those figures are accurate but wrong.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Public transportation, and a source of funding, has long been an uphill fight for Northwest Indiana. And it still is today, both in terms of computer rail and bus service. Federal funding for the expansion of commuter rail from Hammond to St. John, as well as double-tracking the existing South Shore Rail operation, seemed a virtual lock until President Donald Trump entered the picture. U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, who has been the godfather of both projects, sits high on the House Appropriations Committee which will provide federal funding for both South Shore projects. Visclosky has been saying for years that he will secure the federal money if the state and local communities come up with a match. The match has all but been secured, but that was before Trump was elected president and cast doubt over the future of transportation projects. That’s why not only Visclosky, but also Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is a South Shore supporter, are putting pressure on Mike Pence, the vice president and former Indiana governor, to see that the federal money flows this way. Although Pence never went out of his way to funnel money to Northwest Indiana, he and Holcomb are close.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - If you want to bear witness to one of the most dismal policy and political debacles in American history, consider the last five American presidents and the last dozen or so congresses when it comes to health care. In managing one-sixth of the nation’s economy and the needs of the populace, this is simply a sad story sans leadership. I will give some examples via my own personal prism. Last summer I was at my cabin, got tangled up in my dog’s tether and split my forehead open. A friend drove me to Columbus Regional Hospital emergency room where in 90 minutes I received 24 stitches and a tetanus shot. The bill: $1,600. My friend Mike Carr, a health consultant who helped Gov. Mitch Daniels devise the welfare “hybrid plan” observed: “That comes out to over $1,000 an hour.” It underscores a Rand Corporation analysis of Indiana hospital costs which it terms “shockingly high” for charges of in-patient and out-patient procedures, often three times that of other markets. I’m on an IU Health insurance silver plan, so the $5,000 deductible didn’t help. Since Obamacare was passed in 2010, I’ve been on MDWise, Anthem and IU Health plans. The latter two are pulling out of the Indiana Obamacare exchange, so I’ll be on my fourth insurer next January. My monthly premiums (for just me) have gone from $440, to $780, and $681 this year. I expect them to skyrocket next year.
  • MUNCIE – Jeff Bezos recently announced that Amazon is looking for a location other than Seattle for a second headquarters building. The proposal is for perhaps 50,000 total jobs with annual compensation of $100,000 or higher. This would make it the largest potential economic development deal in U.S. history. Naturally, this announcement sent city fathers across the U.S. scrambling to craft a proposal for Amazon. The specifications for the new site leaves just a dozen or so metropolitan areas as potential places for the facility dubbed HQ2. Any reasonable analysis would rank the Indianapolis area in the top half dozen potential sites. This raises a few issues that everyone in Indiana and the Midwest as a whole should consider. This proposal comes on the heels of what is arguably the most irresponsible economic development deal in modern history, Wisconsin’s $3 billion plus bid for 3,000 Foxconn jobs. Compared to that piece of fiscal insanity, the Amazon deal should be worth about $25 billion in incentives. By comparison, Indianapolis spends a tad bit more than $1 billion running the city each year, and New York City’s annual budget is about $75 billion a year. Beyond offering an immediate illustration of Wisconsin’s folly, there are other insights into this deal.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I’ve been impressed by writings on the Amazon call for proposals concerning the location of their second headquarters. Some writers believe Indianapolis should be flattered by being qualified to compete for the second headquarters to be built by this massive, transformative company. Others contend we don’t have the financial resources required by Amazon’s list of desirable attributes to make the final cut. How would we finance the modern, comprehensive transportation system Amazon envisions? Does Indiana offer the appreciation of innovative thinking Amazon imagines necessary for its new location? However, I find it strange no one objects to the paternalistic, self-congratulatory, insensitive attitude of Amazon’s proposal. The company demands much and offers little in return to its all-too-eager metropolitan supplicants. Amazon wants to add (perhaps) 50,000 jobs to the blessed area, paying an average of (perhaps) $100,000 in total compensation, and (perhaps) $5 billion in construction outlays.
  • SOUTH BEND – President Donald Trump is doing no favors for Republicans seeking to defeat Sen. Joe Donnelly. Republican contenders are trying to tear down Donnelly’s image as a moderate Democrat, likening him to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. And then Trump invites Donnelly to dinner at the White House, clearly identifying him as one of the moderates who might be willing to reach across the aisle for bipartisan agreement on tax reform. The president shared the thousand  island dressing and views on middle-class tax relief with Donnelly during the dinner last week. Donnelly was seated next to Trump at the affair, attended by a bipartisan group of senators, four Republicans and three Democrats. Vice President Mike Pence and other key administration officials also were there. In a telephone interview, Donnelly said the discussion “was really productive and businesslike,” not like the sharp partisanship on display at a White House luncheon to which he was invited earlier in the administration.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There were a lot of questions raised during and after the Democratic precinct caucus that elected Oscar Martinez Jr. as the new Lake County sheriff last week. Martinez, who has been a Lake County police officer since 1993, won a third-ballot victory over Schererville Police Chief David Dowling. Martinez had 223 votes to Dowling’s 170. It was the first Democratic caucus since James L. Wieser was elected party chairman earlier this year. What a web has been weaved. During the chairman’s election, Wieser and Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay tied. Outgoing chairman John Buncich broke the tie by selecting Wieser. It was because of Buncich that there was a need for the special caucus last week.
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