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Saturday, August 15, 2020
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Friday, August 14, 2020 10:13 AM

By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

1. Trump to starve the Postal Service

Here are your final power lunch talking points for the week: President Trump, who has lied and spun tales about the dangers of voting by mail, told the Fox Business Network that he opposes more funding to the United States Postal Service so it can’t handle the expected rise in that voting method brought on, in part, to his botched response to the pandemic. “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump, who ran in 2016 as an epic dealmaker, told host Maria Bartiromo on Thursday. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”

Vice News reported that the USPS, under the direction of Postmaster Louis DeJoy, has removed 19 mail sorting machines from five processing centers. Multiple national news sources have reported a slow down in the delivery of mail. And the Philadelphia Inquirer  reports the USPS  has warned in a July 29 letter to Pennsylvania election officials that some mail ballots might not be delivered on time because the state’s deadlines are too tight for its “delivery standards.” NBC says a similar warning went to Michigan officials. Both are swing states with wide vote-by-mail systems.

There are several problems with this. First, President Trump appears to be willing to tip the scales on the conduct of the election, whether it’s appealing to China for help, or damaging the postal system. Second, the USPS delivers many vital communications (including medications) that now appear to be delayed. He appears to be on the course to delegitimize the electoral process. This is simply unacceptable. President Trump and the First Lady have requested absentee ballots in Palm Beach for the November election. He’s exempted Florida from his list of states he says are going to run a “rigged election.” Finally, former Trump "fixer" Michael Cohen writes in his forthcoming book "The Real, Real Donald Trump"Trump wants to be "leader for life" in order to avoid prison time.

2. Holcomb defers expanded vote by mail to legislature

Democrat gubernatorial nominee Woody Myers and attorney general nominee Jonathan Weinzapfel called on Gov. Eric Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson to ask the Indiana Election Commission to expand vote by mail at today's 10:30 a.m. Indiana Election Commission meeting. “This is failed leadership,” saidMyers. “Indiana is one of only eight states that do not allow all voters to vote safely by mail in times of a pandemic.” Weinzapfel added, “An overwhelming number of Hoosiers have been calling for safer voting options. With the election fast-approaching, our Indiana counties need direction now.” Holcomb believes expanding vote by mail is an issue that should be addressed by the Indiana General Assembly next year. "I think that question would be more appropriately answered with the General Assembly," Holcomb said at his weekly COVID press conference on Wednesday. "Obviously we were under a stay-at-home order statewide that was Exhibit A, if you will," he said of expanded, no-excuse absentee balloting in the delayed June 2 primary that drew more than 500,000 Hoosiers. "Exhibit B is we are very open right now in the State of Indiana and so to make that kind of drastic change on the fly while we are mobile would be inappropriate. Now that is a discussion worth having for all kinds of various reasons, set aside COVID-19, for all kinds of other reasons. I look forward to having it in January when we have statewide input."

3. Another internal 5th CD poll

A poll for Club For Growth shows Republican State Sen. Victoria Spartz with a 47-40% lead over Democrat Christina Hale in the 5th CD, with Libertarian Ken Tucker at 5% and 8% undecided. This follows an internal Hale poll released last month showing her with a 51-45% lead. Hale got her money’s worth of out that survey, as Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Cook Political Report  and National Journal  shifted the race to “tossup” without seeing the cross tabs. Howey Politics Indiana  has it “Leans Spartz,” in part because the Woody Myers gubernatorial campaign is simply uncompetitive and the 5th has been a long-time GOP bastion. That’s not to say this race won’t shift in HPI’s “tossup” zone, but I’m looking for credible metrics. We’re hearing that the Spartz campaign has been mowing through consultants and President Trump’s play to “suburban housewives” seems tone deaf in this emerging purple district.

4. COVID updates

Greater Clark County Schools reported 58 staffers and 210 students are now in COVID quarantined. Supt. Mark Laughner told the News & Tribune,  “As we get more cases throughout the communities and in schools, will we have the staff to cover buildings? And if we don’t, we’re going to have to close down that building for a week or two weeks.” North Adams County Schools has pushed back in-school sessions until Aug. 31 due to an outbreak following a downtown Decatur concert on July 30. Warrick County reported two students tested positive, with quarantines to follow. Porter and Tippecanoe counties are imposing new crowd restrictions. Officials in Bartholomew County (Vice President Mike Pence’s home), have expressed concerns about a spike in cases there. State Rep. Terry Goodin has tested positive, saying he has serious flu-like symptoms, a terrible headache and a raspy throat. Indiana reported 1,046 additional confirmed cases and 20 deaths on Thursday. The new Fishers Health Department’s only epidemiologist, Eileen White, resigned, telling the IndyStar  that Mayor Scott Fadness is cooking the COVID books to keep schools open. “This is a level of interference I had never seen before in a public health agency,” she said. Fadness denies the allegation.

5. Utility moratoriums and evictions

Indiana’s utility disconnection moratorium ends today. There are still 19,000 people in Indianapolis on the Marion County Rental Assistance Program’s waiting list; 3,100 households had been approved. Congress has adjourned until after Labor Day, so there will be no renewed pandemic rescue help from the Feds.

Have a great weekend, folks. It’s The Atomic!

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    SOUTH BEND – The email update came with this subject line: “Still a ‘former Republican.’” It came from former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, elected and reelected to that office as a Republican. He also was a top assistant to Dan Quayle, when Quayle was a senator from Indiana and then vice president. Zoeller for decades was an unwavering conservative Hoosier Republican. Then, in his view, the Republican Party at the federal level wavered away from him. During an interview a month after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Zoeller, leaving office after his second term as attorney general, described himself as “a former Republican.” In his email update, Zoeller said: “Now, a few years later, it’s abundantly clear that the GOP is not likely to return to the party I joined anytime soon.” With further email exchanges and a long phone conversation, Zoeller explained why he is a “former Republican” when it comes to the presidential election but still a Republican in state and local politics. He will vote for Joe Biden. Why? Zoeller said that President Trump doesn’t fit his definition of a conservative Republican. Not with expanding rather than limiting federal government, sharply increasing the national debt, rejecting past Republican concerns for Free World alliances and fair trade and displaying a divisive demeanor, the exact opposite of the approach of past Hoosier Republican leaders such as Sen. Dick Lugar.
    KOKOMO – There might not be more than three people in 10,000 who would proudly tell you that statistics was one of the three things they most enjoyed about college. I’m sure that parties, spring breaks, home football weekends, fraternities, sororities, dating, drinking, no in loco parentis and cruising through life for four to six years would probably consistently outrank statistics class in their “these were a few of my favorite things” song salute to higher education. What made a traditionally difficult and boring class move to the top of my personal list of things that I most enjoyed about college? For me, the answer was simple, Dr. Lou Mattola, who made statistics come alive and rendered order out of the chaos of randomly arranged numbers and mathematical equations. In short, he put the story in story problems. His secret was to reduce a seemingly complex subject like statistics into real life scenarios such as casino betting odds, coin toss probabilities, batting averages and the likelihood of outcomes. Just think of him as the kind of guy who could explain the movie “Moneyball” to you over a beer and you’d sit listening to him all night. As someone who struggled with trigonometry and calculus, I appreciated Dr. Mottola’s ability as a professor. I wish I had told him at the time what I thought of his teaching.
    INDIANAPOLIS – There’s a lot going on right now. With COVID-19 cases rising even as schools attempt to reopen and Congress negotiates its next COVID-19 package, trying to keep up with the deluge of policy news feels like drinking from a firehose.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that financial regulators have chosen this moment to pave the way for predatory lenders to operate freely throughout the country. In late July, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) proposed a new rule that would allow predatory lenders to partner with banks to evade state interest rate limits. How will it work? Thanks to a 1970’s Supreme Court case, banks are able to export the interest rates of their home state. However, both regulators and courts have guarded against allowing this preemption to be “rented out” to predatory lenders seeking to evade state interest rate limits. The OCC’s new proposed rule, which declares the bank the “true lender” so long as it is named as the lender in the loan agreement, would enable predatory lenders to proliferate, charging triple-digit interest for loans that cause harmful debt cycles.
    MUNCIE – As I pen this column, Congress is debating a follow-up to the CARES Act, aimed at mitigating the effects of a worsening economic downturn. There are many points of contention between the parties. Among the most important disagreements is that of economic support for state and local governments. Several prominent members of Indiana’s congressional delegation have spoken out against this proposal, decrying it as a bail-out for fiscally imprudent states. They are right to be wary of this. Federal taxpayers should not bailout irresponsible cities and states. If that were the case, I would support that position. However, the economy is worse than generally believed, and the depth of fiscal distress felt by state and local governments much worse than generally understood. In fact, Indiana’s experience demonstrates why the nation needs a very large state and local tax support payment. Indiana’s economy has thus far been less affected by COVID-19 than most states. We are manufacturing-intensive, so a fair share of joblessness in the state was temporary. That is reflected in the large reductions of unemployment reported over the last two months. However, while many businesses are able to adapt, the underlying loss of permanent jobs is alarming.
    INDIANAPOLIS – Science is not cut and dried. Science is studied and analyzed. It is discussed and debated. It is like making pancakes, a learned skill perfected with the trial and error of sometimes being right and sometimes being wrong. For that reason, science is not sacrosanct. The conclusions always reserve the right to be wrong. But at the same time, science is also not sacrilege. For a layman following the science and understanding the fluidity of facts, it is no less a noble endeavor than being the expert themselves. The fact is facts are not constant. Facts are evolving and ever-changing. Even historical events permanently etched into our collective consciousness are amended over time. An unearthed diary. A long-lost letter to a loved one. Newly discovered documents in a presidential library. All inject new facts into the story line and alter our conclusions of what we once knew. Science, like the facts of our historical record, is by no means constant. The earth was once flat, we were the center of the universe and germs did not spread disease. Of course, those ideas are ludicrous today (I hope), but at a point in time they were considered fact. And when those facts changed, so too did the known truth.
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  • HPI Analysis: COVID takes a staggering economic toll

    INDIANAPOLIS  – Anyone who knows Purdue President Mitch Daniels will attest to his instincts to compete, his reliance on metrics and research. So when the Detroit Free Press reported on Monday that by a 12-2 vote (with Nebraska and Iowa voting no) that the Big Ten presidents were about to postpone the autumnal football season, HPI reached out for clarity. Is that accurate? I asked. The response came back after the unprecedented decision had been made Tuesday afternoon. “By now you know the answer,” Daniels said. “Tough call.” The coronavirus pandemic and the U.S. lack of control over its deceptive and deadly attributes is now having a catastrophic impact on Indiana and the nation. Just in a sports and consumer context, since March the pandemic has cost the state NCAA’s March Madness, the IHSAA tournament, the Indianapolis 500 and its NASCAR counterpart, big and small conventions including GenCon and the Future Farmers of America, minor league baseball in Indianapolis, Gary, South Bend, Evansville and Fort Wayne, and now college football. The state’s economic and educational shutdown ordered by Gov. Eric Holcomb on March 23 has resulted in around a $1 billion loss in revenue monthly to restaurants and bars during the closure. Many have already closed for good.

  • Atomic! Big10 grid dilemma; Biden's veepstakes; West off IN ballot

    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Big 10 decision time: 
    Here are your Tuesday power lunch talking points: At this writing, the 14 Big Ten conference presidents including Indiana's Michael McRobbie and Purdue's Mitch Daniels are meeting (presumably via Zoom) to potentially decide the fate of college football in 2020. They could follow the MAC and cancel the season, postpone to the spring (Penn State Coach James Franklin suggested using domed hubs in Indy, Detroit and Minneapolis), delay the season to late September, or forge ahead by encapsulating players in a bubbles like the NBA does. The Detroit Free Press  reported that by a 12-2 vote (Iowa and Nebraska the nays) on Sunday, the decision was to postpone the season. But in doing so, the dire ramifications spread across the spectrum. Nebraska Coach Scott Frost suggested that if that happened, the Huskers might align with another conference. Coaches Franklin and Alabama's Nick Saban said that players would be safer in campus. ESPN: The Big Ten still might end up punting the fall season, but not right away. Visit Bloomington estimates the city would lose $5 million in consumer spending per each home game weekend. At Notre Dame, Michigan or Ohio State, that number would be tripled or quadrupled. University sports programs would take estimated $50 million to $100 million revenue hits. The political ramifications are broad. No college football feeds the 2020 election narrative that the national pandemic response has been botched, tossed to money-strapped states which battled each other and nations for supplies. Right/wrong track numbers are already underwater for President Trump's reelect. No college football could sink them into the Mariana Trench. Little wonder that Trump and Vice President Pence were urging the games to go on. Pence tweeted, “America needs College Football! It’s important for student-athletes, schools, and our Nation. These Great athletes have worked their whole lives for the opportunity compete on the college gridiron and they deserve the chance to safely get back on the field!" If only Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, and Trump had guided the nation to a more stable place (like Italy), and had not sought the U.S. to reopen prematurely last April and May. Had that happened, we would be experiencing an infection rate in four figures, and not topping 60,000 daily. It's likely to get worse, with epidemiologists Dr. Michael T. Osterholm (who is advocating a new lockdown) and Anthony Fauci are forecasting grim six-figure daily infections once schools are fully in session and flu season arrives this fall, if America doesn't get a handle on the pandemic in this closing window.

  • Atomic! Our staggering economic fallout; Safe schools? Masked Gov; Mt. Trumpmore
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis 

    1. A staggering economic toll: Here are your Monday power lunch talking points: Indiana notched its fourth consecutive day of new, documented COVID topping 1,000. There aren't as many deaths as they were during the previous apex in April, which is the good news. The terrible news is that the economic impact of the United States lack of control over the pandemic (the U.S. had 61,028 cases on Sunday; Italy had 347) has yet to be calculated. But it will become our New Great Depression. In Indiana, we've lost (or will lose) the consumer impacts of the Indianapolis 500, its NASCAR equivalent, minor league baseball in Fort Wayne, Indy, Evansville, South Bend and Gary, dozens of Indiana Pacer NBA games, and now with NCAA fall football teetering on the brink, lost spending that has long helped fuel economies of Bloomington, the Lafayettes, South Bend/Mishawaka, and Muncie. Gone, too, are huge conventions like GenCon and FFA that brought hundreds of thousands of consumers. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby asked after an emergency conference call among the Power 5 conferences, ”Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not.” A source told Sports Illustrated, "In the next 72 hours, college football is going to come to a complete stop." A Power Five A.D. told CBS Sports, "I think it's inevitable" the fall season will be scrapped.  The Detroit Free Press is reporting that the Big Ten will pull the plug on the 2020 football season on Tuesday. It reported that Big Ten presidents voted 12-2 to scrap the season, with only Nebraska and and Iowa voting to play. The lack of a national COVID testing and tracing policy and the politicization of simple face masking has turned this into a partisan pandemic. The economic fallout is going to be historically staggering.
  • Bray letter suggests 15% funding cut to schools
    Howey Politics Indiana

    Indiana Senate President Rod Bray threw Hoosier school districts into turmoil with a letter to educators suggesting they could face a 15% funding cut if they don't fully open schools to in-person sessions. "There is no guarantee such an exception will be made for schools that don't give families the option of in-person instruction in a school building," Bray wrote. "Therefore, schools that don't offer in-person instruction should plan on operating under the current funding policy."  The letter came a day after President Trump said of the pandemic, “It’s going away. It’ll go away. Things go away. No question in my mind that it will go away.” He added of school-age children, “They may get it, but they get it and it doesn’t have much of an impact on them. For whatever reason the China virus, children handle it very well.” 
  • HPI Horse Race: Indiana Senate races take shape in Indy, LaPorte

    INDIANAPOLIS – It took the Democratic Watergate wave election of 1974 for the party to stake a majority in the Indiana Senate for a mere two years. The miniscule caucus has just 10 members, so even if the most vicious Democratic wave were to take shape, there is virtually no chance for the party to take a majority. Howey Politics Indiana counts just five potentially competitive races for 2020, with four of them in Democratic-trending Marion County. The other is SD8 which had been held by Democrats Jim Arnold and Anita Bowser for a generation until Sen. Mike Bohacek won it during the Donald Trump wave of 2016. As with the House, if President Trump craters at the top of the ticket, the problem for Democrats is that gubernatorial nominee Woody Myers has been an anemic fundraiser, give Gov. Eric Holcomb’s reelection chances an enhanced status, raising a potential bulwark against down-ballot carnage. Republican sources tell HPI  that while Trump won’t carry Indiana by the 19% he did in 2016, he’ll likely come in with an 8-to-10% plurality. Gov. Holcomb is running very strongly in some of the Indianapolis suburban districts where Trump is poised to be a liability. “Senate Republicans have developed their own brand,” one campaign source told HPI. “That helps inoculate us.”
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  • IU President McRobbie to retire in 2021
    "I am immensely proud of all that has been accomplished over the period I have been president. All the change and effort has, I believe, consolidated and elevated IU's position as one of America's premier and leading research universities. But all these accomplishments -- and many more -- are not a one-person show. They are the collective product of the hard and unremitting work of IU's outstanding senior leaders, the strong support of superb faculty who have embraced change, engaged and talented students who have and will continue to go on to become leaders in their chosen fields, and exceptional staff whose professionalism and dedication have been the linchpin of so many of our successes." - Indiana University President Michael McRobbie, who announced on Friday he will retire in June 2021. McRobbie came to IU in 1997 from his native Australia as its first vice president for information technology and chief information officer. Now a U.S. citizen, he was appointed vice president for research in 2003 and named interim provost and vice president for academic affairs for IU Bloomington in 2006. He became IU's 18th president on July 1, 2007, making him one of the longest-serving university presidents in the country.
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  • Trump answers Hannity question on what he'd do if elected to a 2nd term
    “Well, one of the things that will be really great, you know, the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word experience is a very important word. It’s a very important meaning. I never did this before - I never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington I think 17 times, all of the sudden, I’m the president of the United States. You know the story, I’m riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady and I say, ‘This is great.’ But I didn’t know very many people in Washington, it wasn’t my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York. Now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes, like you know an idiot like Bolton, all he wanted to do is drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to kill people.” - President Trump, answering this question from Fox News' Sean Hannity at a Wisconsin town hall Thursday: “What’s at stake in this election as you compare and contrast, and what are your top priority items for a second term?”
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