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

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

Think about this for a minute: If the Indiana State Board of Education had really been holding Bennett accountable like it is holding Glenda Ritz accountable now, the Christel House controversy may never have happened in the first place. But the board didn’t.
  • WASHINGTON – Business leaders may be abandoning President Donald J. Trump in the wake of his reaction to last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va., but the two leading candidates in the Indiana Republican Senate primary race are sticking with him. While CEOs exited White House advisory councils after Trump on Tuesday reaffirmed his stance that there “was blame on both sides” of a demonstration by white nationalists and a counter protest that led to one death and several injuries, Reps. Luke Messer, 6th CD, and Todd Rokita, 4th CD, avoided contradicting Trump. “Hate, bigotry and racism are un-American and unacceptable,” Messer said in an email statement. “I denounce these groups in the strongest terms. To me, much of the criticism surrounding the president was unfair. President Trump denounced the violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville, and I have denounced it, too.” Like Trump, Rokita cast a wide net of blame. “Rep. Rokita believes Americans need to come together to reject all hate groups that encourage domestic terrorism and violence,” Tim Edson, a Rokita campaign spokesman, wrote in an email.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Several years ago I was attending a meeting of Asia-Pacific community leaders in Melaka, Malaysia. People had gathered there from all over the region, including South Korea and Guam, but also Taiwan, and even Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Australia, Tahiti and a number of other countries. Together, we witnessed the reporting on the tsunami that hit Japan, including the terrifying images of coastal cities completely devastated, homes, personal property and loved ones sucked out to sea, never to be heard from again. And if that was not enough, the struggle of the nuclear meltdown of Fukushima, all while our friends and colleagues from Japan could only watch the reports with us, unable to communicate with family back home. The kinship that these people from all over the region felt for one another was palpable and as heartwarming as it could be under the circumstances and uncertainty. People understood that they all faced that common enemy, Mother Nature, and that she could wreak havoc any place, any time, and that many of these nations were particularly vulnerable. Today, there may be a run on Ambien in the Pacific Rim. This escalation of rhetoric and posturing regarding North Korean aggression is unprecedented, and our regional military exposure is more vulnerable than in the past 30 or more years. President Trump’s toughguy talk to Pyonyang sounds awfully similar to his colleague from the Philippines, President Dutarte, and what the Asia Times describes as his “shock and awe diplomacy.”
  • SOUTH BEND – While today I defend Republican Congressman Luke Messer, it’s about one very misguided type of attack. So, don’t interpret it as favoring Messer over Todd Rokita, the other Republican congressman seeking the party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate. Either would be a formidable opponent for Sen. Joe Donnelly, the Democrat who seeks reelection in 2018. Neither would be another Richard Mourdock, the nutty Republican nominee Donnelly defeated to win a first term. A Mourdock type could slip between Messer and Rokita to win in the Republican primary, and there are far-out prospects seeking to do so. But chances are that Donnelly won’t be that fortunate a second time. Now, to defending Messer in one area where he has been attacked in an unfair, but potentially damaging, way. Messer is criticized for relocating his family – wife and three kids – to suburban Washington after election to Congress in 2012. Good for him. Good for his family. Good for Congress.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Are Donald Trump and Mike Pence peas in a pod, or is the vice president ready to fly from the nest. Pence, who is one of the biggest defenders of the president, stayed true on Monday after critics ripped Trump for saying there was fault to be found on both sides of the Charlottesville, Va., demonstration last weekend. So defensive of Trump was Pence that he attacked the media, much like the president has done since taking office. “The media is more concerned in attacking Trump than criticizing the violence itself,” Pence said. Besides defending the president, Pence added that there “will be more unity in America” under Trump’s presidency. All that is fairly standard for Pence, who one day would like to be president. And if Pence is going to succeed Trump, he will need the president’s political base to do so. Perhaps that’s why we haven’t heard from Pence since Monday. Pence, even though he is traveling, hasn’t said a word about Trump’s Tuesday tirade about what happened in Virginia. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – What is the most important job of a mayor? Clearing the streets of snow? Garbage collection? Pothole filling? Providing jobs? Enforcing the law and local codes? Certainly all of these are important tasks. Yet number one on my list is land use. How we use the land in our communities is the basis for the future. Soon after he was elected I stopped in for a chat with Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton. I told him, in my opinion, the most important task he faced was the future use of the downtown block where the post office once stood. This property, owned by a nearby church, is one diagonal block from the courthouse.  No doubt there are many ideas of how this property should be used. Some would argue for a park. Others would endorse senior citizen housing. There are those who envision a monumental, mixed-use tower. Perhaps, this being Bloomington, a few dream of a gathering place for political rallies and evangelical tent meetings, with a dramatic fountain symbolically representing the free flow of ideas.
  • LaPORTE – Governor Eric Holcomb’s recent appointment of LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo to a highly lucrative ($172,000 a year) prestigious cabinet appointment in his Administration could teach a thing or two to our president regarding the twin goals of quality political hiring – rewarding loyalty, yet insisting on absolute competence. First off, this president has shown that the loyalty he demands of subordinates is one-way and unrequited.  Trump’s failure to reward two of his most loyal surrogates, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is testament to how transitory and transactional he really is. Couple that with his inexplicable attacks this past week on the one Cabinet member, Attorney General Jeff Sessions,  most intent on carrying out the so-called Trump agenda – weakening voting rights, reduced civil rights enforcement – and you see a pattern developing that loyal service in support of The Donald’s agenda doesn’t carry with it any real rewards. Contrast that with the loyalty shown by LaPorte’s energetic mayor who committed early and fervently to Eric Holcomb’s U.S. Senate campaign and agreed to serve as the co-chair of his campaign committee, when the outcome of that GOP Senate primary to fill Dan Coats’ impending open seat was very much in doubt. Holcomb never forgot that loyalty and commitment that Blair Milo had demonstrated to him.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – On Aug. 6, 1945, President Harry S Truman, a mostly unknown political figure, commander in chief for just less than five months, and widely seen as a novice, made a stunning announcement: “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.” On Tuesday, President Trump, widely seen as a novice on all things military and diplomatic, reacted to a report that North Korea had attained a miniaturized nuclear warhead with arms folded and clenched to his torso, saying, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  It was a chilling moment, underscoring comments U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young made to me earlier this summer that Americans need to wrap their heads around the notion that we may be at war – nuclear war – in a matter of months. Perhaps it’s just weeks or days now.
  • FORT WAYNE – “It’s not what you know but who you know.”  While researching the history of Tammany Hall and its relationship with professional baseball, I came across an interesting little book titled, “Ethnicity and Machine Politics,” by Jerome Krase and Charles LaCerra. It is a history of how the Madison Club dominated Brooklyn politics from 1905 to 1978. In the 1970s, club member Emmanuel “Manny” Cellar was the senior member of Congress.  Other Madison Club members included then-New York Gov. Hugh Carey, New York City Mayor Abe Beame, New York State Controller Arthur Levitt, and Speaker of the State Assembly Stanley Steingut. It was a small, but very powerful, political club reminiscent of the Tammany Club across the East River. One insight in particular jumped off the page, turning the original quote with which I started this column on its head. “It is not who you know but rather, who knows you.” Power and influence is signified not by your name-dropping, but whether people in charge know you by name.
  • SOUTH BEND – Most people can take a joke. Some can’t. Make fun of them in a punch line, and they don’t laugh, don’t smile, don’t joke back. They punch back, angry, vindictive. In “Devil’s Bargain,” new best-selling book about President Donald Trump and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, author Joshua Green, national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, poses the question of whether Trump ran for president because he couldn’t take a joke. Well, it was a series of jokes that Trump didn’t take well. It was on April 30, 2011, at the White House Correspondents’ dinner in Washington. That’s a swank event attended by elite of government, business, society and entertainment. The president traditionally attends, taking a lot of ribbing and then responding with humorous remarks of his own, usually poking fun at himself as well as at the news media and political officials and other important people in the room. Trump was in the room. He was invited to sit at the Washington Post table. He was then a TV celebrity who was toying with running for the Republican nomination to oppose President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection. And he was getting national attention with his “birther” charges, perpetuating the fake news that Obama really wasn’t born in the United States.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Perhaps the biggest political question in Indiana is whether U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly can win reelection next year. Judging by the crowded field of Republican hopefuls, the answer would have to be no.  But given that he is the second most bipartisan member of the Senate, the answer would have to be maybe. Indiana Democrats suffered a stinging defeat last year when Evan Bayh lost in his bid to win back the Senate seat he gave up several years earlier. So, for the first time since the 1970s, Indiana doesn’t have one of its native sons, Democrats Birch and Evan Bayh and Republican Richard Lugar, in the U.S. Senate. That can’t change next year, but Democrats are bent on making sure Donnelly is reelected. Democrats think that’s possible, because there won’t be a presidential race heading the ballot. There won’t be a governor race high on the ballot either. Who Republicans nominate remains to be seen, but chances are it will be someone out of the Donald Trump mode. That would have meant a great deal last year but won’t mean nearly as much next year. Republican candidates thus far are U.S. Reps. Todd Rokita, a Munster native, and Luke Messer; State Rep. Mike Braun; Hamilton County businessman Terry Henderson; Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt; and Floyds Knobs educator Andrew Takami. Although most of those candidates have embraced Trump, that may be a mistake, given his plunging approval rating.
  • BLOOMINGTON – The heart of representative democracy rests in the communication between the electorate and elected officials. We should make this conversation more fruitful and effective. Do ordinary citizens still have a voice in Washington and in their state capitals? Despite the cynicism of these times, my answer is, yes, we do – but we have to exercise it. I don’t just mean going to a town hall meeting and yelling, or shooting off a letter or email. I mean making an appointment to sit down with your representative – in his or her office, at a cafe in the district, or wherever else you can meet – and holding a real conversation. We don’t do this often enough, perhaps because most people think it’s impossible to arrange. It’s not, although it might take patience to get an appointment with a busy representative. And to my mind, it’s the most effective way for citizens to communicate with their representatives. This is important because the heart of a representative democracy does not lie in its electorate, or even its elected officials. It rests in the communication between them, in the give and take that allows each to understand the other.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – My studies take me all over Indiana with frequent trips into the Data Dungeon. Today I saw Per Capita Personal Income (called PCPI by her friends) alone and sobbing. Passers-by don’t recognize her despite her popularity and stunning figure. “What’s up, kid?” I said to the sad fraction with the growing numerator and the pleasing denominator. “Politicians, economic developers and PR people keep talking about me and they don’t have the faintest idea who I am,” she said. “You know the score,” I told her. “People don’t bother examining both numerators and denominators. In your case, they don’t care how personal income grows in your upper parts as long as it does so faster than the population in lower reaches.”
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - There were two burning questions for Republican Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson: Did Russian government entities or hackers compromise the state’s election system? And does she believe the 2016 election results are accurate? Lawson did not hedge in her responses. “Indiana did not get hacked,” she said flatly. Her office was informed by the FBI late last summer that at least two states had their systems entered, and dozens of states were probed. “We examined 15,500,000 logins from the 92 county clerks’ offices. They were processing candidate filings, absentee ballot requests and petition signatures and all the things that counties do. So we were fine. Those IP addresses had not touched Indiana’s system.” While there have been an array of news reports saying that anywhere from 21 to 30 states had their election systems probed, Lawson explained, “Not one secretary has been notified that their system was endangered in any way. Our systems are scanned multiple times a day, thousands of times a week. Some are by nefarious actors, some just curious who want to rattle the door knobs to see if any doors have been left open. We continue to work with our technology staff to make sure we haven’t left any doors open.”
  • FORT WAYNE – President Trump’s completion of his four-year term may depend upon two things: The Republicans maintaining control of Congress, and being on good terms with fellow Republicans. Recently, those things aren’t going so well. Certainly no Democrats are going to bail him out. He can divide his supporters but there are no signs of adding any new ones. Some discussion of the history of impeachments provides insight about the arguments that continue to unfold. A few things are very clear. No vice president that survived a presidential impeachment went on to win a presidential election. Vice Presidents Andrew Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Al Gore never won at the national level post-impeachment. It isn’t impossible that Vice President Pence could win nationally should President Trump be impeached, but he would be an American original. It is also clear that Trump threats of retribution at critics will have no impact on his potential of being impeached. If the Democrats win control of Congress, threats against them will only strengthen them among their base.
  • EVANSVILLE – As GOP attempts at federal healthcare reform continue to flounder, John Boehner added fuel to the fire last month with remarkably prescient prophecy about the chances of his former Republican colleagues successfully passing some sort of repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. “Now, they’re never – they’re not going to repeal and replace Obamacare. . . in the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever one time agreed on what a healthcare proposal should look like. Not once,” he said. Plenty of evidence backs Boehner up. Other than vague, occasional references to the free market, Republicans lack a comprehensive ideological approach to healthcare policy. That’s a sad reality for an industry representing one-sixth of the national economy. It’s time for Congress to embrace a new prescription for our national healthcare headache: Unleash the states. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb wants more flexibility at the state level and “greater control of federal health care dollars being spent in Indiana.” Holcomb often defends Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 and avoids offering too many specifics, but many believe he favors more free market reforms like reconnecting healthcare buyers with sellers and reducing perverse incentives.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  Unless something drastic happens in the next couple of days, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich is going to trial on charges that he accepted kickbacks from tow truck operators. The trial will be in U.S. District Court in Hammond. The government alleges that Buncich accepted cash and checks from towing operators in exchange for the right to tow vehicles for county police. Should Buncich actually go on trial, it would be counter to what generally happens with public corruption cases in Lake County. Rarely does an elected official actually go on trial. In virtually all cases in the last several decades, the defendant has entered into a plea agreement with the government. The plea agreement generally results in less prison time than if the defendant had gone to trial and lost. Not only does Buncich deny taking kickbacks from towing businesses, he is putting the blame on Timothy Downs, his second in command and the former president of the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police. In pretrial motions, Buncich alleges that Downs acted on his own to collect money from the towing firms. Downs, however, entered into his own plea agreement early on and will testify for the government.
  • SOUTH BEND – Whether Mike Pence will become the next president of the United States – and if so, when – is the subject of widespread speculation. Theories on when Pence might become president range from election in 2024, as President Trump is completing a second term, to a much quicker move to the Oval Office, when Trump is impeached or resigns after proclaiming he already has made America great again. Electability is debated. Some political analysts figure that Pence will be viewed as a stabilizing figure in a chaotic Trump administration, thus electable. Others see the vice president as already tainted by standing so closely with Trump as troubles mount, thus making him unelectable. Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman writes that a President Pence will come soon because of Trump’s “biggest blunder,” choosing Pence as his running mate.  Chapman theorizes that most Republicans in Congress would rather deal with a President Pence, and even Democrats would prefer “a mentally stable right-wing puritan to an unpredictable, thin-skinned narcissist.” So, he says, if Trump continues strange behavior amid more startling disclosures, members of both parties will impeach and oust Trump. That “biggest mistake” by Trump, Chapman says, was picking Pence, someone well known in Congress and seen by so many as a better alternative.
  • WEST LAFAYETTE –  The most wonderful time of the year has come and gone for those who follow the Indiana state budget. On July 19, the State Budget Agency presented its accounting of what happened to revenues, spending and balances in fiscal 2017. The state ran an annual surplus of $42 million, and ended with balances of $1.78 billion, down from $2.24 billion in 2016. Wait a minute, says anyone who’s ever kept a checkbook. If I earn more than I spend, the balance in my checkbook goes up. What kind of arithmetic causes an annual surplus to produce a decline in balances? Calculating surpluses and deficits can be tricky. When you calculate the surplus, what counts as revenue? What counts as spending? To get that $42 million surplus, the state counts all the general fund revenues received from sales, income and other taxes, and from charges and fees. That was a little less than $15.5 billion in fiscal 2017. It then calculates the amount of spending, as appropriations plus some adjustments, less “reversions.” Reversions are money authorized in the budget but never spent. Revenues actually received, less money actually spent, gave that $42 million.
  • KOKOMO – Where is Oliver Cromwell when you need him?  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it is time to dissolve Parliament and call for new elections. The grand ruling coalition has fallen apart and it is now time to take our great national issues back to the people for their input. The failed uneasy marriage of personal fiefdoms that we call the United States Senate has disintegrated into a glorified exercise of nitpicking and removal of lint from the bellybuttons of government. There is a reason why a statue of Cromwell stands guard over the British Parliament.  Earning his historical spurs as a champion for the elected voice of the people, he later became known as the man who knew a dysfunctional government when he saw it. His solution to the never-ending squabbles and inaction of Parliament was to send its members home, back to the people who elected them. In a speech that could be given by Donald Trump or any fed-up American, Cromwell ended the “Long Parliament” with this zinger: “It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
  • FREMONT, Ind. - Can you hear the Gipper’s voice from the wayback machine? “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” It was former California Republican Chairman Gaylord Parkinson who coined the phrase, and it became President Reagan’s mantra. What we’re seeing on an almost hourly basis, from the emerging Indiana U.S. Senate primary between U.S. Reps. Todd Rokita, Luke Messer to the White House, is a complete abrogation of the concept. The Grand Old Party and its “big tent” are being replaced with virulent fratricide. Messer announced this past Wednesday he would enter the Senate race and pose a challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly next year. It came after weeks of needling by Rokita, who conducted a whisper campaign against Messer that he actually lives in an affluent Washington suburb, and took aim his wife’s lucrative legal work for the city of Fishers where she makes about $20,000 a month. The rumor mill spun that Messer might skip the race to stay on a House leadership track where he is fifth in ranking. There was an IndyStar story about how Rokita’s line of attack against Messer had been edited into the latter’s Wikipedia page.

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  • Sen. Corker says Trump lacks 'stability and competence'; U.S. faces 'great peril'
    “We’re at a point where there needs to be radical changes take place at the White House itself. It has to happen. I think the president needs to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation and move beyond himself - move way beyond himself - and move to a place where daily he’s waking up thinking about what is best for the nation. The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. And we need for him to be successful. He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation. He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great. Without the things that I just mentioned happening, our nation is going to go through great peril.” - U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, to Tennessee news media about President Trump. The comments come as Vice President Mike Pence is cutting short his trip to South American, returning to the U.S. tonight. But Pence said in Panama Thursday, “In President Donald Trump, I think the United States once again has a president whose vision, energy and can-do spirit is reminiscent of President Teddy Roosevelt.”

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  • Presidents Bush 41, 43 denounce racism
    Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush released a joint statement on Wednesday, denouncing racism, anti-Semitism and hatred after the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.” The statement came a day after President Trump backtracked on a Monday statement where he denounced alt right groups, saying the there were “fine people” in the KKK, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. The Bush statement did not mention President Trump. - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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