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Tuesday, May 23, 2017
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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.
  • 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'."

  • INDIANAPOLIS – What a huge week for the State GOP and especially for original Trump supporters in Indiana. Having a Trump in the state six months to the night of being first on the board to elect Donald J. Trump president, and one year to the week of winning the critical Indiana primary, was a big-league way to cap off a great year. The 20-point general election victory followed but also overshadows Indiana’s primary win when candidate Trump won all nine congressional districts, thus collecting all 57 Indiana delegates and knocking out his last two opponents. Remember the surprise withdrawal by Sen. Ted Cruz that night followed by Gov. Kasich the next day? Back then, Donald Trump Jr. was in the state in April, stumping for his Dad. Having him back was a cool reminder of how important Indiana was for the Trump nomination. That May 3 primary win, at a time when pundits could only focus on what would keep Donald Trump from the nomination, propelled him on a clear path to well over the 1,237 delegates needed without having to worry about any further competition. Don Jr. acknowledged it in his speech before over 1,000 loyalists, saying that it all started in Indiana.
  • SOUTH BEND –– The focus of the political stethoscope, for so long examining the poor health of Democrats who voted in Congress for Obamacare, shifts now to measuring the prospects for political health of Republicans who voted for Trumpcare. A health care plan, especially if complicated and pushed through without the public or even supporters in Congress really understanding the effects, can cause terrible health problems for those who vote for it. Democrats learned that. Will Republicans now learn the same lesson? There is no doubt that Trumpcare will be a major issue in the 2018 elections. Polls show it is unpopular, just as Obamacare was when Republicans hammered it and Democrats to win congressional elections. Now, ironically, just as Republicans control Congress and the presidency and can repeal it, provisions of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, have become popular. A Gallup poll shows 53% approval of Obamacare, highest favorability ever, for the first time over 50%. So the GOP is having a difficult time figuring out how to dump it without severe health care and political health woes.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It is a pity no town crier rings our news about the latest data for our nation and state. Last week the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis made public the 2016 GDP figures. Did members of the Indiana General Assembly or the state administration pause to study and reflect on these numbers? I doubt it. Possibly some isolated journalist picked up a news release on the Internet, but I doubt it. And what would that lone soul report? “Indiana ranked 42nd of the 50 states with a growth rate of just 0.8% in GDP during the closing three months of 2016, compared to the national advance of 1.9%.” No s/he didn’t, not if s/he wants to do any interviews with state officials in the rest of this calendar year. S/he would have to dig and find something cheerful to give every Hoosier a warm, fuzzy feeling: “Indiana doubled New York’s economic growth rate in the last quarter of 2016. Details at 11, 10 Central time.” This wouldn’t be exactly true, but close enough to be acceptable.
                
  • BLOOMINGTON – Every few months we have to contemplate the very real possibility that the government might close its doors. Is this really the best we can do? Think about this for a moment. Two days away from a federal shutdown, Congress comes up with a stopgap measure to keep the government operating – for a week. A few days later it arrives at a bipartisan budget deal lasting a bit over four months. This, in turn, moves the president to take to Twitter with the following statement: “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” With respect to President Trump, this assertion seems more focused on settling political scores than on the good of the country. There is no such thing as a “good” shutdown. The last time it happened, in 2013, it cost the economy $24 billion, according to Standard & Poor’s at the time. National institutions get shuttered, federal workers are out of a job for an indeterminate period, federal loans and support for veterans are frozen, state and local governments – and all the businesses, non-profits and community organizations that depend on them – face cash shortages, and the country’s most economically vulnerable must shift for themselves. All that and more happens during a shutdown.
  • MERRILLVILLE –– The Gary Air Show – or I should say the lack of it in recent years – has become a joke. It was announced this week that there won’t be a show in Gary on the shore of Lake Michigan this year. The same was the case in 2013 and 2014. The cancellation this year is because Gary can’t afford the $350,000 needed to provide the support to make the event a reality. Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she was unable to find a corporate sponsor. The mayor had a year to secure the money and apparently was unable to do so. And I can understand why firms like U.S. Steel Corp. and the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. wouldn’t want to pony up the money. Speros Batistatos, the president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said the loss of the show is devastating because of the hundreds of thousands of people it attracts. Batistatos’ organization used to be one of the sponsors of the show and lost $1.4 million over a nine-year span.
  • 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.”

  • EVANSVILLE – Each year the Indiana legislature prides itself on reducing the size and scope of government, yet each session, including this one, that same legislature grabs more power from the hands of local municipalities. The message from Indianapolis is clear: The Statehouse knows best and mayors and town councils can’t be trusted to do what’s in their communities’ best interests. It is time we fundamentally change our approach. Indiana’s Home Rule Act first passed in 1980 and generally grants municipalities the power to govern themselves as they see fit. The idea, modeled off the national principle of federalism, gives more choice, options, flexibility, and freedom to local leaders. Now those ideals are under greater attack than at any time since Hoosier home rule began. In recent years the Indiana legislature handcuffed municipalities from setting a local minimum wage or from regulating housing, agricultural operations, worker schedules, or plastic bags. A move to preempt local rules for services like Airbnb failed to get out of the Indiana House, but it was a rare setback for the never-ending march to scale back home rule. This year legislators successfully banned local zoning rules for certain utility poles and undermined so-called “good neighbor ordinances.”
        
  • SOUTH BEND – Two decisions, evaluated together, have been great for Indiana. Donald Trump’s decision to select Mike Pence as his choice for vice president.The decision by Pence, when he was governor, to pick Eric Holcomb for lieutenant governor. Picking Holcomb wouldn’t have meant much if it were not for the later decision by President Trump to take Indiana’s governor as his running mate. With Pence gone from Indiana, Holcomb was elected governor. That thus far is great for Indiana. Holcomb is a better governor than Pence. And Pence is providing some stability and a calmer, more-informed voice for the administration in dealing with Congress and with the real world. He was instrumental in forcing out the dangerous Michael Flynn as national security adviser. He could be doing a better job for President Trump than he did for Indiana. Some readers won’t take kindly to any praise for Pence. There is room for criticism. But fair is fair. He does some things right. He hand-picked Holcomb to fill a lieutenant governor vacancy, putting Holcomb in position to win the Republican nomination for governor, to win the election and to be a good governor, a better governor than Pence, who had sagging approval ratings back when it appeared he would struggle for reelection as governor.
  • BLOOMINGTON – I have significant differences with Donald Trump’s political stances, but I want him to enjoy a successful presidency. It’s good for neither the country nor the world when a U.S. president struggles or fails. Yet I also believe that constructive criticism can help a president grow more capable. It’s in this spirit that I want to take a hard look at the Trump presidency so far. President Trump’s personal and stylistic approaches may have served him in business and on the campaign trail, but are problematic in office. He has an unfortunate tendency to dodge blame for things that go wrong. He makes charges with no evidence to support them and refuses to admit he was wrong. He routinely over-inflates his achievements, as when he recently declared that “no administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days,” an assertion that no one familiar with FDR’s and other notable presidents’ first months in office would accept. Crucially, he does not appear to know how to use or coordinate the levers of American power – economic, diplomatic and political. He appreciates military power, but lacks a coherent, comprehensive strategy and the clarity, consistency, and discipline required to apply one.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  Although he has been on the campaign trail for about eight months, Schererville Police Chief David Dowling formally launched his bid for Lake County sheriff a week ago. Dowling is looking to become the first chief of a small town to become Lake County sheriff. He spoke briefly to a sizable crowd at the Andorra Banquet Hall in Schererville, and he had two very noteworthy things to say about the race. Perhaps the most interesting is that Dowling said he will retire from the Schererville Police Department prior to the 2018 Democratic primary. He didn’t elaborate as to why he would retire, but one got the feeling that he wanted to be unencumbered during the last few months prior to the election. I suspect that it also makes Dowling look like a very serious candidate in that he will give up his current job while hoping to win a new one. And if he didn’t win the sheriff’s post, he would pretty much be without a job.
  • WEST LAFAYETTE – The late great George Carlin had a routine about a weather forecaster. “The forecast for tonight, dark. Continued dark throughout the night, with scattered light in the morning.” Some predictions are easy. Predicting the base rate of farmland used to be easy too. The base rate is the starting point for setting the assessed value of farmland for property taxes. The state’s Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) recalculates it every year with a capitalization formula. They divide measures of farm income by a rate of return. The base rate for taxes this year is $1,960 per acre. Here’s how easy it was. The base rate for taxes in 2015 was calculated in 2014, averaging data from 2006 through 2011. There was a four-year lag between the most recent numbers and the base rate used for taxes. I could take numbers that were already in the books, feed them through the DLGF’s set formula, and come up with a really accurate prediction. In January 2012, I predicted the base rate for 2014 at $1,760. Nailed it. In January 2013, I predicted $2,050 for 2015. Right again. It was no big deal, like “scattered light in the morning.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – “Is that all you got to say this week?” HomeFree asks as he bends over my laptop at the diner. He’s that kind of fellow. Named for his illiterate mother’s favorite movie star, he is inquisitive with a preference for the obscure. “Yes,” I reply. “I’m writing about the relationship between population in a metro area and its economy as measured by GDP.” “Bigger is better,” he says. “The more people, the more and better things an economy can produce.  That means the value of those things (their GDP) is also greater.”  “Not true,” is my rejoinder. “I took all 382 metro areas in the U.S. and found no meaningful statistical relationship between their population size and their Gross Domestic Product.”
  • 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.
  • MERRILLVILLE – One of the biggest problems facing police officers in Northwest Indiana – and across the country for that matter – is that the flow of narcotics isn’t going to stop. As hard as they try to catch the drug dealers and the mules who transport the narcotics, it isn’t a winnable battle. But you have to give the police credit for trying; they do take narcotics and drug dealers off the streets. But while police are making an impact, 91 people are dying every day from drug overdoses across the country. It is an especially serious problem in Northwest Indiana. Lake County last year had 63 heroin deaths, while 20 died in Porter County from opioid overdoses. And those dying aren’t the bad guys. They are the victims. Schererville Police Chief David Dowling knows there need to be changes in law enforcement’s approach to opioids. “We all understand the opioid epidemic has gotten so bad that this isn’t a problem we can arrest our way out of,” Dowling said.
  • BLOOMINGTON – Our representative democracy depends on voters developing discriminating judgments about policies and politicians. They can’t do that if vital information is withheld from them. For the last few years, I’ve been keeping a file of clippings about the erosion of transparency and candor in government. I’m sorry to report that it’s getting rather full. This is not a good thing. Public officials should feel strongly obliged to do their business in an open and upfront manner. When you hold public office, the presumption ought always to be in favor of the people’s right to know what’s going on. If you don’t want to be open to scrutiny, then the burden surely has to be on you to say specifically why that’s necessary. This doesn’t seem to be a commonly held view in Washington these days, though the precedent for non-disclosure is bipartisan. News conferences have been rare for Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump. During the George W. Bush administration the NSA was wiretapping Americans’ overseas communications based on legal justifications that were withheld from the public. Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department pushed to compromise a fundamental principle under which federal agencies made public their rationale for how they interpreted and administered the law.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Last month we covered the basic population changes of Indiana and its 92 counties from 2010 through 2016. Now let’s go deeper to look at the components of population changes – natural increase, domestic and international migration. Populations grow because, usually, more babies are born than people die. We call that natural increase which accounted for 96% of Indiana’s population growth in the years of 2011 to 2016. That means migration (domestic and international) was responsible for just 4% of our growth. Economically, babies are important. They spur people to earn so they can spend on cribs, diapers, larger homes, and ultimately education and weddings.  Deaths, although important to selected sectors, do not have the wide economic impact of births. Marion led 70 counties in natural increase with 40,481 more births than deaths. In contrast, among the 22 counties experiencing natural decrease, Henry County (New Castle) led with 572 more deaths than births. The lowest ratios of deaths to births were in LaGrange (0.35) and Hamilton (0.38) counties, while the highest ratios were in Vermillion (1.32), Brown (1.30) and Fayette (1.27).
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  Now might be a good time for everyone still working on last year’s presidential campaign to pause and consider what’s going on around the world. It might also be the right time for the folks in the middle that are always at the ready to jump on the bash-Trump bandwagon to take a hard look at his accomplishments in the first 90 days. It’s easy to fall into the media trap against the president by engaging in the trivial, dwelling on the past and picking at every nit you can find or that CNN will find for you.  Should we really care if he spends his weekends in Mar-a-Lago when he also visits the Snap-On Tools headquarters in Wisconsin to announce a Buy American, Hire American program to ensure that our federal government is putting American workers and American products first? Do we really need to complain about his tweets when he is also handling the North Korean crisis brilliantly? Are we still going to dwell on Putin like we are back in the USSR, when the president acted boldly and decisively to use the tools of our military so precisely and effectively against Assad in Syria and ISIS in Afghanistan?
        
  • 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.
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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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