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Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:16 PM
MERRILLVILLE – You know the saying that if it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. I suspect Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority have that feeling right about now.
    
That’s because it was announced last week that completion of a $166-million expansion project was being delayed – again. Rather than being ready at the end of this year, it now is estimated that the project, largely runway expansion, won’t be completed until September 2014 at the earliest.
    
Despite the delay, the Airport Authority will proceed with plans to attract a private investor willing to put up at least $100 million as part of a private/public partnership. The expansion project involves railroad relocation and remediation of polluted soil and groundwater to allow for runway expansion.
    
The irony is that the very thing that led to Northwest Indiana becoming an industrial giant is now blocking the area’s future. The land around the airport is among the most polluted in the country. And that obviously didn’t happen overnight.
    
  • MERRILLVILLE – I suspect you can say it could only happen in Lake County. And, yes, we are talking about a heated Democratic sheriff’s primary that just got hotter. At first glance, the biggest loser is Sheriff Oscar Martinez, who has been in office since winning a precinct caucus last fall. The biggest winner is former Schererville Police Chief David Dowling, who finished second in the precinct caucus. And, at the heart of all the action is Betty Dominguez, whose husband Roy Dominguez was sheriff from 2003 to 2010 and likely would be running again this year if the sheriff wasn’t Hispanic. Betty Dominguez, who is a retired Lake County Court probation officer, entered the sheriff’s race on Monday. Her candidacy stirs Lake County’s diverse ethnic pot. Martinez hoped to be the lone Hispanic in the race and corner that vote. That no longer would appear to be possible. Betty Dominguez, who is almost as recognizable as her husband, would be expected to pull a substantial vote.  The other Hispanic in the race is county police officer Maria (Rosa) Trajkovich.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Sixty-five members of the Indiana House did the right thing last week when they essentially rendered the Gary School Board trustees powerless. A variety of school trustees for decades have failed to bring school spending in line with revenue. You can say the same for a handful of school superintendents over the same years. Legislation that now heads to the Senate reaffirms that state-appointed emergency manager Peggy Hinckley now holds all the school board’s former powers and classifies the elected school board as advisory. And, the board can hold only four public meetings a year. There are a host of reasons why it has come to this. For decades, a host of school trustees have failed to face the fact that families were leaving Gary in droves, causing a dramatic drop in school enrollment. Yet, for years, the school trustees failed to act on the fact that a massive decline in enrollment meant there were too many teachers and school buildings.
  • MERRILLVILLE – One can always count on a heated, in-your-face primary for Lake County sheriff every four years. As is usually the case, you can bet that the candidates collectively will raise and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. After all, the sheriff is the most powerful political figure in the county year in and year out. And he is the highest paid elected official in the county. There have been legendary races including John Buncich and Roy Dominguez. Although Buncich won, Dominguez later became sheriff. Jose Arredondo and Chris Anton won heated sheriff races in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Democratic precinct organization picked Rudy Bartolomei to become sheriff after Anton died in office. Bartolomei never got a chance to run for a full term when he was indicted and entered the federal witness protection program. Stephen R. Stiglich was picked by precinct officials in the mid-80s to replace Bartolomei and then won two terms of his own. He passed away several years ago.
  • MERRILLVILLE – That television commercial for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner needs a bit of rewriting. The ad features the governors of three states bordering Illinois. The point of the commercial is that Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Democrat, is blocking Rauner’s agenda, which is resulting in businesses and jobs fleeing from Illinois to the three surrounding states. At one point, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb boasts that his state is growing union jobs faster than Illinois. Not so fast, governor. The fact of the matter is that Indiana is losing union jobs – lots of them. It has taken a while, but the state now is seeing the impact of the 2012 right-to-work law that was approved by the Republicans controlling the Legislature. Despite Republican denials, the law was intended to eat away at the number of union members in the state.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  The future of two long-time popular Lake County politicians headed in different directions over the last week. On the brighter side, former Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo announced that he was running for county clerk in the Democratic primary. Arredondo retired as judge in 2010 after 24 years on the bench. He didn’t stay out of the limelight for long. Arredondo last year was the Democratic nominee for attorney general. He lost. No one, perhaps, knows the operation of the clerk’s office – which is one of the largest in the county – better than Arredondo because of his tenure as judge.  Additionally, Arredondo said that he knows each of the judges in the county’s massive judicial system. Clerk Mike Brown is prohibited from running again because of term limits. He instead is running for sheriff. Arredondo thus far is unopposed on the Democratic ballot for clerk. While one man in his 70s is vying for public office, another is headed to prison. Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich this week was sentenced to 15½ years in federal prison on a public corruption conviction connected to bribes from towing company operators. For Buncich, 72, the sentence almost assures that he will die in prison. The sentence was imposed by District Court Judge James T. Moody, who has a reputation for being extremely tough when it comes to public corruption cases. Moody, who has been on senior status for several years, spends a great deal of time at a vacation home in Florida.
     
  • MERRILLVILLE - I had to chuckle when I first saw the television ad designed to boost the political stock of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. The ad does so by attacking Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for allegedly raising taxes and blocking Rauner’s agenda. This could be a tough year for Rauner who likely will face a primary challenge, which is the last thing a sitting governor needs. He also will have a stiff challenge from a Democrat in the fall. That likely will be from J.B. Pritzker, who like Rauner is a billionaire businessman.  Pritzker started his own TV ads last year. Featured in the ad for Rauner are the Republican governors of three of the states bordering Illinois – Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana. The three governors – including Indiana’s Eric Holcomb - all “thank” Madigan for driving people out of Illinois into Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri.
  • MERRILLVILLE – With the advent of the new year, politics quickly took center stage in Lake County. And while it is a big political year, particularly on the county level, much of the focus will be on the Democratic primary for sheriff. The sheriff’s office dominated politics last year with the conviction of Sheriff John Buncich on public corruption charges involving kickbacks on towing contracts. Buncich will be sentenced later this month. Upon Buncich’s conviction, a host of candidates began lobbying Democratic precinct committeemen for the right to fill the remainder of his term. County police officer Oscar Martinez won the precinct caucus last fall and now will have to face the electorate in the May primary election. And there will be challengers – perhaps many of them. One who has been campaigning heavily since the precinct election in Schererville Police Chief David Dowling, who finished second in the caucus. Martinez isn’t resting on his precinct victory. Martinez, in an unheard of move by a sheriff, bought full-color billboards across the county over the holiday season. Featured on the billboards was Martinez himself in full uniform cautioning county residents to have a safe holiday season.
  • MERRILLVILLE – When Santa makes the rounds Sunday night and Monday, he undoubtedly will have forgotten the following gifts: President Donald Trump: Truth serum. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott: Something bigger and better. State Rep. Scott Pelath: A run for governor. State Rep. Charlie Brown: A seat on the Lake County Council. Gov. Eric Holcomb: Unlike former Govs. Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels, the ability to see that Lake County highways are plowed. The city of Valparaiso: A mayor who cares as much as retiring Mayor Jon Costas.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Sometimes one gets the feeling that Lake County Republicans aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. One gets the feeling that they enjoy playing second fiddle to Democrats who rule the roost. One gets the feeling that Republicans aren’t bothered by the fact that they haven’t won a countywide office since the late 1940s, except for one a decade ago that actually saw Democrats elect a Republican. One gets the feeling that Republicans are content to hold a township or town office here and there. One gets the feeling that Republicans have rejected the openings Democrats have afforded Republicans to advance themselves.
  • MERRILLVILLE – State Rep. Charlie Brown was one of the early supporters of Richard G. Hatcher’s bid for Gary mayor in the 1960s. Hatcher won in 1967 and the two men have remained close over the last 50 years. Brown announced a couple of weeks ago that he wouldn’t seek reelection to the Legislature next year. Brown has represented the 3rd District since 1982. The district’s make-up has changed over the years as Gary’s population has plummeted from a high of almost 180,000 to less than 80,000 today. The district has changed to now include parts of Hobart, Lake Station and New Chicago, as well as part of Gary. The Hatcher-Brown political presence may not be ending. Ragen Hatcher, the mayor’s daughter, has said she will run for the seat Brown has held for 35 years. And will Brown be supporting another Hatcher? Brown said, “I will be supporting Ragen Hatcher because of my love and devotion to the Hatcher family, because there are only a limited number of females in the Democratic caucus and there aren’t that many attorneys either.”
  • MERRILLVILLE – Only in Indiana. Only in Indiana does the Legislature attempt to pull the state out of the Dark Ages but just gets half the job done. Indiana is the last state in the union to bar the sale of carry-out alcohol on Sunday. It isn’t a religious thing but shows the collective power of package liquor stores around the state. The package stores now have a monopoly on the sale of cold beer and they don’t want to be open on Sunday. But studies show Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the year and grocery stores would like to be able to sell alcohol. The Sunday prohibition may be about to end, based on the recommendation of the Alcohol Code Revision Commission, which has been studying the state’s liquor laws for several months. Unfortunately the commission stopped a bit short when it made its recommendation to open things up for Sunday sales.You will be able to pick up beer at the grocery store on Sunday, but it won’t be cold. Nope, this is Indiana where change comes very slowly.
  • MERRILLVILLE – School referendums to increase property taxes in Hobart and Hammond were approvedTuesday. But I have to wonder what the outcome would have been if more than 14% of the registered voters had turned out. There was nothing else on the ballot to lure voters to the polls. You have to think that those who voted were either adamantly for or against the extra money for the school systems. The state law requiring the referendums for extra school funding is full of holes. As Hammond Supt. Walter Watkins pointed out, schools have suffered from a loss of funding from the state-mandated tax caps, increased costs for health care and ongoing increases in energy and fuel costs. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – When Richard Gordon Hatcher was elected mayor 50 years ago, Gary was one of the most segregated cities in the nation. Blacks were confined to Midtown, but they weren’t bothered by the housing restrictions, said State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary. Brown said blacks accepted the segregation because jobs were plentiful and the pay was good. Brown came to Gary from Philadelphia in the early 1960s and took a job as a teacher. He quickly became part of Hatcher’s campaign team. The Hatcher years will be featured during a celebration Saturday at West Side High School. Among those expected are close friends, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Minister Louis Farrakhan. The Hatcher years were tumultuous. Many embraced Hatcher for being the one of the first blacks, along with Carl Stokes of Cleveland, elected mayor of a major U.S. city.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Hoosiers used to elect local school board members to make the tough decisions about education. That’s not the case any longer. The Legislature mandated several years ago that any major increases in the amount of money schools can raise must be approved by the voters through a referendum. Such will be the case Nov. 7 on increased funding proposals for the Hobart and Hammond school corporations. Again, I don’t fully understand why. It seems that the school districts elected board members to make the decisions about levels of funding for the hiring of teachers and staff, the repair and replacement of school buildings and the purchase of equipment. There is one major fault with that system, and Lake County has seen it happen in recent years. The more affluent communities approve referendums to raise more money for schools. And, the poorer communities reject referendums to raise more money for the operation of the schools. Specifically, the voters in Gary and East Chicago, the two poorest municipalities in the county, have rejected school referendums in recent years. That’s somewhat understandable in that those taxpayers can least afford to spend more money on schools – or anything else for that matter. The irony of referendums dying in Gary and East Chicago is that those two districts needed more money for schools than others did.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • MERRILLVILLE  – Almost without exception, what happens just across the state line in Illinois has an impact on Northwest Indiana. When property taxes go up, scores of Illinois residents move to Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. When the Illinois sales tax goes up – particularly in Cook County – people flock to Indiana to buy cars, cigarettes, gasoline, appliances and more.  And now, Cook County residents are coming to Northwest Indiana to buy pop and other soft drinks containing sugar. The Cook County Board has approved a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary soft drinks. The financially strapped county says the tax will raise about $200 million annually and prevent the closure of Stroger Hospital or a reduction in its services, particularly to low-income residents.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Lake County Democrats are about to select a new sheriff without the help of the general public. It’s happened before. In the mid-1980s, Democrats picked a new sheriff when Rudy Bartolomei was indicted. Bartolomei went into the witness protection system and helped launch Operation Lights Out, the most extensive federal investigation into public corruption in the history of the state. Lights Out resulted in a slew of federal indictments and sent several elected officials to jail. Lake County Democrats will elect another sheriff at a precinct caucus on Sept. 16. Sheriff John Buncich was removed from office last week upon his conviction on bribery charges in connection with county towing contracts. It used to be that convicted public officials stayed in office – while collecting fat paychecks – until sentencing. The Legislature in recent years, largely prompted by Lake County, changed the law to remove an elected official from office upon conviction.
  • MERRILLVILLE – An out-of-towner asked me the other day how things were going in Gary. I told him the murder rate was down, but that was only because the population of the city had dwindled to fewer than 80,000 residents, not because of a drastic reduction in homicides. And, while crime continues to be a problem in Gary, so too is justice. It was unveiled a few months back that the Gary city court has a backlog of more than 200,000 cases and no plan in place to speed up justice. And just as the state named a special monitor to take control of the city’s struggling school system, a group in the Miller Beach section of the city announced it may try to form a new school district with the three schools in that section of the city. But it’s not all negative when it comes to Gary. Every few months there is an announcement about something positive for the city. Virtually every time, it involves the creation of jobs – something sorely needed. Despite the optimism, it’s rare that jobs are created.
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  • Rep. Walorski pays tribute to the late Rev. Billy Graham
    “Dean and I join millions of people around the world today celebrating the life of Reverend Billy Graham. I’ll never forget having the opportunity to sit at a Billy Graham Crusade with my family decades ago at Notre Dame. Thank God for an Evangelist who was never ashamed to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” - U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, on the death of Rev. Billy Graham. The North Carolina farmer’s son who preached to millions in stadium events he called "crusades" and became a pastor to presidents and the nation’s best-known Christian evangelist for more than 60 years, died on Wednesday at his home in Montreat, N.C. He was 99.
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  • The best and worst presidents
    It’s President’s Day, and the one big difference this year is that there’s a Honda ad featuring two of the three Hoosier presidents, William Henry Harrison and Abraham Lincoln. Of course, Lincoln is considered one of the greatest presidents and Harrison, who lasted only a month in office before dying, one of the worst, though he didn’t really have much of a change.

    My top 10 presidents: 1. Lincoln (he saved the union and solved its most glaring defect), 2. George Washington (set the standards), 3. Franklin Roosevelt (got us through the Great Depression, World War II), 4. Thomas Jefferson (propelled our manifest destiny), 5. Theodore Roosevelt (set the foundations for a super power, created national parks), 5. Dwight Eisenhower (kept us out of wars, created the Interstate system and NASA), 6. Ronald Reagan (set the stage for winning the Cold War), 7. Harry S Truman (ended World War II without an invasion of Japan), 8. George H.W. Bush (ushered in the post-Cold War era), 9. James K. Polk (achieved his agenda in one term), and 10. James Madison (steered us through War of 1812, then reorganized government and created the national bank).

    My 10 worst presidents: 1. James Buchanan (ineptly watched the Civil War gather), 2. Andrew Johnson (drunk, angry & impeached), 3. Warren G. Harding (scandalized), 4. U.S. Grant (scandalized), 5. Richard Nixon (paranoid, scandalized and would have been impeached), 6. Zachary Taylor (mediocre), 7. Millard Fillmore (more 19th Century mediocrity), 8. Bill Clinton (perverted & impeached), 9. George W. Bush (Iraq War disaster, economic collapse, first trillion dollar deficit), 10. William Howard Taft (cut off at the knees by Teddy). - Brian A. Howey, publisher 
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