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Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:28 PM
ANGOLA, Ind. – These past few weeks, we’ve seen yet another example of sclerosis in Washington, this time with the farm bill. On a topic that begged for compromise, everyone dug in, and there was celebration in some quarters even as they were spitting the ashes out of their mouths.
Next up comes the immigration package, with House Republicans overwhelmingly balking Wednesday at the Senate passed bill despite warnings from Speaker John Boehner about the political consequences.
Later this year, we’ll get another debt limit faux crisis.
It is a city of gangs who can’t shoot straight, of rhetoric akin to methane gas seeping out of a melting tundra. Gallup has congressional approval at 10 percent, yet another historic low.
LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo’s column on page 1 hits a number of points that are resonating. And it underscores a recent piece by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks on what he calls the “power inversion,” the rise of city states and regional governments that fill the void left by the partisan polarization in Washington.
  • EVANSVILLE – Nearly 1,500 Republican delegates gathered here last weekend. Their Democratic brothers and sister convene in Indianapolis Friday and Saturday. So what is the status of Indiana’s dominant, super majority Grand Old Party? For Democrats, the blunt force reality is that their hold on the only office voted on by all Hoosiers, the U.S. Senate seat, is now a “tossup” race. The Morning Consult “2018 Midterm Wave Watcher” supplies some statistical grist: Donnelly’s approve/disapprove stood at 41/34 percent, down from 43/30 percent in January. But the real heartburn for Democrats is that 44 percent said it’s “time for a new person” while 31 percent said Donnelly “deserves reelection.” The Donnelly campaign’s fundraising appeals are also fraught with angst. “We know our emails have been a little panicky lately, but we’re not exaggerating when we say that Joe’s chances of winning in November are no better than a coin flip,” read one Team Donnelly fundraising appeal last week. Another notes: “Here’s the deal … The pollsters are calling this race a toss-up, and that means we’ve got an equally good chance of losing as we do of winning. I’ve heard that before, though. After all, no one thought we’d win in 2012.” The “blue wave” that had been a double-digit advantage for Democrats until May, has turned into, as Republican National Chairman Ronna McDaniel put it, a “blue ripple.”  
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – Some how, some way in the curiously twisted mind of President Donald J. Trump, Canada is deserving of disrespect, derision and PM Justin Trudeau has a “special place in hell” awaiting him. And Kim Jong Un is to be trusted. “He trusts me and I trust him,” Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopolous. This comes after decades of North Korean deception, lies, brutality and evasions. This is the same Kim who ordered the murders of his deputy premier for education (by firing squad), Gen. Hyon Yong-chol (excuted by an anti-aircraft gun), his brother Kim Jong-nam (assassinated in a Malyasian airport) and uncle Jang Song-thaek (killed by anti-aircraft gun and incinerated by flamethrowers) while 120,000 endure torture and hard labor in four political prisons. Trump also trusts Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been implicated in the murders of dozens of political opponents and journalists, annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine while shooting down a commerical airliner and runs a kleptocracy. Oh, and Putin orchestrated the meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
  • FREMONT, Ind.  – We’ve all had that feeling of veering in heavy traffic and just missing a major collision. If your family was strapped in behind you, it’s the kind of memory that gnaws at you late at night. What if? What if there had been a cement truck coming up on the lane I swerved to? That’s the feeling Hoosier leaders and citizens should be realizing in the wake of the West Middle School shooting in Noblesville last Friday. A typical 13-year-old girl named Ella Whistler went to school and ended up at Riley Hospital after suffering gunshot wounds. Since 2011, she’s the third Hoosier student to go to school in the morning only to be shot and taken away later that day in an ambulance. The other two shootings happened at Lawrence North and Martinsville high schools, in districts represented by Speaker Brian Bosma and incoming Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, respectively. Ella’s teacher, former Southern Illinois University defensive end Jason Seaman, was shot three times while tackling the teenage shooter. The shooter brought guns from his home to school. Police had been called to his residence several times prior to the shooting on reports he had guns. There are many questions: How did this teenager have access to the guns he brought to school? Did the parents have them secured? Did police inform school officials the shooter had been investigated for having guns? 

  • FREMONT, Ind.  – Hoosier voters are familiar with a number of political family dynasties, the Bayhs, Carsons, O’Bannons and Viscloskys. And now another is emerging with the Brays. At the General Assembly’s special session earlier this month, Senate Republicans anointed State Sen. Rodric Bray as the incoming Senate president pro tempore, replacing the retiring Sen. David Long. It was a majority caucus vote that insiders say Bray won by a single vote over State Sen. Travis Holdman. It won’t become official until all senators vote the day after the November election. While seen as a fait accompli, there will be at least four new senators replacing Long, the defeated Sen. Joe Zakas, and the retiring Sens. Doug Eckerty and Jim Smith. Sources say they expect the Bray selection to endure after the election.  Bray’s election differed from the other two pro tempore showdowns in 1980 and 2006 that have shaped the modern leader of the Indiana Senate.
  • Brian Howey: Truth, tribes and tyranny

    NASHVILLE, Ind.  – The fissures continue to appear, the dominant topical one cracking the thin crust of Hawaii’s Big Island. In the human context and the matter of whether we can keep our republic, the breaches forecast trouble, upheaval and, perhaps, cataclysm. The voices we’ve heard over the past several weeks should not be ignored. For Hoosiers, it was Purdue President Mitch Daniels who sounded alarms during his annual commencement address. “The freedoms we take for granted, the ‘blessings of liberty’ of which our Constitution speaks, are the gross exception in history,” Daniels said Friday night in West Lafayette. “Almost all of history has belonged to the tyrants, the warlords, the autocrats, the totalitarians. And tribes always gravitate toward tyrants. His remarks come two months after Chinese President Xi Jinping changed his country’s constitution leaving him in power indefinitely. On March 4, speaking at his Mar-a-Lago estate, President Donald Trump praised Xi, saying, “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.” 

  • INDIANAPOLIS - It was double take time. Entering the WFYI-TV studios for the final Republican U.S. Senate debate stood Todd Rokita. He was wearing glasses, holding a sheath of papers, standing at the counter to await escort to the green room. I had enjoyed decent access to Rep. Rokita over the years, but not during this campaign. While I traveled with Mike Braun and Luke Messer, Rokita was off limits. Perhaps this Vincennes University grad was too “elite.” But he opted to travel with a Roll Call reporter who focused her entire story on Rokita’s embarrassing “chauffeur’s memo.” I wanted to talk with Rokita about tariffs, taxes and opioids. Now here we were, eight days before the primary, together. Again. Normally in a major race like this, the candidates are scrapping for the final 2 to 5 percent of undecideds. But Rokita told me that pool is around 40 percent. An hour later after the debate, Luke Messer confirmed the number, saying, “The leader of this race may be the undecideds." In the post-debate parallel universe, Rokita, Messer and Mike Braun all claimed victory. All got a trophy. But at the traditional post-debate press conferences, only Messer showed up.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – There’s been much talk about the “pink wave” in this year’s elections with the emergence of 11 female candidates running for Congress in Indiana and more than 50 running for the General Assembly. But there is also a “green wave,” represented by rich candidates who are mostly self-funding their campaigns. And there is a green wave sweeping across Indiana’s prairies and amber waves of grain. The most conspicuous is Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Braun, who as of March 31 had loaned his campaign $5.5 million. In the 2nd Congressional District, Mel Hall and Yatish Joshi are seeking the Democratic nomination with thick checkbooks. In the Republican 4th Congressional District, Steve Braun and State Rep. Jim Baird have written big checks to their campaigns. And in the 6th CD, Republican Jonathan Lamb is a self-funder, running against Greg Pence, brother of the vice president. They are all following U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, the Tennessee transplant who moved in Jeffersonville in 2016. He received $3 million in loans from himself and his father in a campaign that raised a total of $3.6 million.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Vice President Mike Pence returns to Indianapolis on April 26 to tout President Trump and the Republican tax reforms. But this visit comes as his boss heads into what will likely be one of the most turbulent periods of his life. President Trump appears to be heading into the homestretch of Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is investigating payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and another Playmate from his attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, whose office was recently raided by the FBI. Investigators have recovered a trove of recorded conversations that seem to involve the President’s closest friends and advisers, prompting Trump to insist that “client/attorney privilege is dead.” And on top of all that drama, Trump is also poised to meet with North Korean despot Kim Jong Un in a summit with truly scary nuclear ramifications. Folks, this is epic stuff. An additional subplot arose over the weekend: For the first time in their fascinating relationship, Pence found himself sideways with his boss, who has a penchant for firing subordinates via Twitter.
  • SCHERERVILLE, Ind. – In the next three weeks, Hoosier Republican primary voters will have a fateful decision to make: Who will be their next U.S. Senate nominee, U.S. Reps. Luke Messer, Todd Rokita or Jasper businessman Mike Braun? And the race just heated up on Friday as Messer began airing two TV ads assaulting his two opponents. Republican primary voters are batting .500 on this crucial decision in the past two Senate races. In 2016, they chose Rep. Todd Young over Rep. Marlin Stutzman, and the Bloomington Republican did the almost unfathomable, which was to drub former governor and senator Evan Bayh. In 2012, Republicans decided to cast off U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana’s leading vote getter in history, for Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who was an arrogant nominee as his campaign alienated Lugar voters in the weeks following his landslide primary victory. He refused most joint appearances with Democrat Joe Donnelly, while Republican leaders imposed handlers in an attempt to limit his incendiary rhetoric. His October debate fiasco is often cited for his defeat to Donnelly, but Howey Politics Indiana polling had Donnelly leading all fall and I believe he would have won without Mourdock’s blunder. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS – The breaking news around 7 p.m. April 4, 1968 hit our home like a stab. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., had been gunned down on a Memphis hotel balcony. The civil rights leader and pioneer was dead.  We didn’t know it at the time, but this was only the middle act of a tumultuous year. The Tet Offensive, Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s surprising New Hampshire primary campaign, President Lyndon Johnson’s stunning announcement he wouldn’t run again, and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s entry into the Democratic presidential race and the Indiana primary set the stage for the King assassination. Two months hence, it was Kennedy lying in a pool of blood dying, and further, the riotous Democratic National Convention with a police mob in Chicago’s Grant Park and, finally, Richard Nixon’s razor thin victory over Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey in November that laid bare the cornerstone of western civilization convulsing in turmoil with the whole world watching. Absorbing the King assassination that April night a half century ago, we immediately fixated on what was to come.
  • GREENFIELD, Ind.  – I suspect that deep in the mind of South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg rings the sounds of Jan. 20, 1961, and the voice the President John F. Kennedy on a cold and snowy day: “We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.” The torch, in Buttigieg’s mind, is ready for passage once again. For the past 15 months, Buttigieg has aspired to the national stage. He’s run statewide in Indiana, losing a 2010 race for treasurer against incumbent Republican Richard Mourdock. He has since won races in South Bend, the last two general elections by landslides. He looks to Indianapolis and, while not ruling out a run for governor, sees a very popular Gov. Eric Holcomb, with no other Democrat taking steps for such a challenge.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. –  A decade ago, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jill Long Thompson ran on a platform vowing to save every Indiana city and town. But there was skepticism. Indiana is pockmarked with communities that died when we transformed from an agrarian to a manufacturing economy a century ago. Dozens of Hoosier cities and towns face the same dilemma two decades deep into the 21st Century. Those which innovate will survive. In my home of Brown County, survival means expanding rural broadband internet.  Last Wednesday afternoon before bedlam overtook the Indiana General Assembly, Nashville Town Manager Scott Rudd sounded the alarm. He had been working with Advance Indiana Municipalities and the Office of Community and Rural Affairs on House Bill 1065, which would create a grant program to bring broadband to the “last mile.” It was floundering.  What should I do? Then I thought, “What would President Trump do?” 

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Last Friday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly contacted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveling in one of those African “shithole” countries. “You may get a tweet,” Kelly advised, according to the New York Times. It took an additional four days, but President Trump fired his top diplomat via Twitter. A day later, we’re learning that national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Kelly himself will probably be the next to go. President Trump is setting up an administration of one. Perhaps two, when you consider that he can’t fire Vice President Mike Pence. The turnover in the upper echelons of this White House is approaching 50%. Pence is the only original inner circle member left. Just 14 months into this administration, the new reality is that it may come down to Pence, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to keep this wild president, once described by Tillerson as a “f——ing moron” within the rails. The true danger is when Coats and Mattis have had enough and split. Or are fired… via Twitter. The longer they stay, the more their sheer patriotism grows.

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – Trump Country in Indiana is the country, the rural areas that former radio host Mike Pence used to describe as the land of the “amber waves of grain.” In Adams County Donald Trump won with 73.9 percent of the vote in 2016, in Benton County it was 70.6 percent, Clinton County 71.7 percent, DeKalb County 71.7 percent, LaGrange County 74.9 percent, Whitley County 73 percent and Daviess County, a whopping 79.6 percent. And it was that way across most rural counties without a city of more than 15,000 population. While Mitt Romney won rural Indiana by a two-to-one margin in 2012 against President Obama, Trump won it by a three-to-one margin. Part of that uptick was Gov. Pence on the ticket. The other was a loathing of Hillary Clinton. Patrick Pfingsten, then with the Corydon Group, noted in a November 2016 column for Hoosier Ag Today that “Trump is no force on agriculture policy. He made a statement in favor of ethanol prior to the Iowa caucus, that he read from a prepared text. He’s also made no mention of how he would approach a Farm Bill, which will likely be negotiated during his term. The most striking thing may truly be his fierce opposition to trade. Agricultural trade is essential for farmers from Indiana and the entire U.S. We simply grow more than we can use, so it has to go somewhere. That’s why so many farm groups work so hard to grow trade markets around the world, and why many were so quick to support the Trans Pacific Partnership.”

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - The three Republican U.S. Senate candidates have spent the last six months building the foundations for their campaigns and preparing for this very moment. It is the final nine week homestretch of what will likely be a donnybrook primary race for the right to challenge U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. What will be fascinating is that the pilings these candidate have attempted to establish can be compromised by a single Tweet or White House reality TV show by President Trump, who is absolutely dominating the political landscape on a daily basis. Former Republican congressman Mark Souder, observed, “The biggest thing is this: Nobody cares except for hardcore political types right now. It’s just stunning. Trump is sucking out all the oxygen. On my Facebook and LinkedIn I have politically skewed friends and participants from all over the state. Nothing on anything but Trump.” So the Senate candidates are going to have to throw the proverbial red meat out to that very conservative primary voter to break through the Trumpian ether. Last week, Jasper businessman Mike Braun used the deaths of Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson and Uber driver Jeff Monroe to stake a position on immigration.
  • Brian Howey: The coming costs of unfettered rights and security
    NASHVILLE, Ind. - After the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans, the United States responded with an array of security upgrades that we all endure today. We walk through metal detectors at airports and government buildings, have our bags (and even shoes) scanned before flights. There are stanchion barriers at gates to stop car bombers. In 2011, the National Priorities Project estimated the costs of these security upgrades for defense and homeland security at $7.6 trillion. The homeland security cost an estimated $636 billion, footed, of course, by U.S. taxpayers. As I wrote last week, in 2018 we are enduring a spate of school atrocities. I cited a figure of 18 incidents from the Everytown organization, that included any gun incident on or adjacent to a school campus. Out of that number we’ve had five resulting in injury or death. In the wake of the Douglas High School massacre in which 14 students and three teachers were murdered, we are witnessing an array of responses. In Indiana, we’ve watched 20 students arrested in Griffith, Rushville, Kokomo, Columbus, Loogootee, Evansville, Bloomington, Muncie and Carmel for making violent threats aimed a school, mostly through social media portals such as Facebook and Snapchat.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In the tragic wake of the 18th American school shooting so far in 2018, with five resulting in injury and death, at this writing my email inbox had yet to receive one of those trite “thoughts and prayers” press release from the Indiana congressional delegation and Vice President Mike Pence. Progress comes in baby steps.  President Trump did fall into briefly into this trap, tweeting, “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” At least he got the second sentence right. But in nationally-televised remarks Thursday morning, Trump said, “Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for victims and their families. To every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you whatever you need." Trump later said he plans to work with state and local leaders to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” But he made no reference to guns. Remember John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage”? In 21st Century America, an inert Congress unable to lift a finger in the wake of domestic terror campaign for fear of attracting National Rifle Association campaign opposition funding, this is an on-going profile in cowardice.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – The dreary reality for the transformation of the Crossroads of America to “Indiana: The Methamphetamine State!” reached its low point in February 2014 when a Washington Post headline stated: “Congrats Missouri, you’re no longer the nation’s meth-bust capital.” That dubious distinction belonged to Indiana where 1,808 clandestine meth labs had been busted. For every one discovered, another three or four existed in the shadows. Even more appalling were the 458 Hoosier kids found living in these toxic cesspools and hovels. It begged questions internally at Howey Politics Indiana: How is it OK that Indiana continually leads the nation in clandestine meth labs? Why are hundreds of municipal and state employees being injured at meth labs as firefighters, cops and code enforcers? Why is it OK that in 2013, 458 Hoosier kids were found in contaminated meth labs? Why is it OK that cities and towns are having to mitigate thousands of contaminated homes, cars and hotel rooms? Why, why, why?  And are there solutions to be found in other states? Howey Politics reporter Matthew Butler, now working as a policy analyst for House Republicans, learned that Mississippi, Oregon, Missouri and Tennessee restricted pseudoephedrine sales at pharmacies for people who are not “patients of record.” The impacts were dramatic. Mississippi saw meth lab busts decline from 692 in 2009 to eight in 2013. Why shouldn’t Indiana follow this lead?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – For the third time in six years, Hoosier Republicans face a critical decision, which is to choose a U.S. Senate nominee. Over the past six years, these voters have batted .500. In 2012, they chose Richard Mourdock over U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, who not only held this Senate seat for 36 years, but was Indiana’s all-time leading vote-getter. A plethora of Mourdock blunders after his landslide primary win booted this safe Republican seat to U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. In 2016, Republicans chose Todd Young, and he did what was almost unfathomable, which was to drub former senator and governor Evan Bayh. There are six candidates in the current field, with U.S. Reps. Luke Messer, Todd Rokita and former legislator Mike Braun from Jasper the leading contenders. The conventional wisdom was this was a race between the two congressmen. But an Economist/You Gov Poll  this week reveals congressional approval at 9 percent. On Wednesday, we learned that Braun posted $2.3 million cash on hand with $2 million raised in the fourth quarter, including about $1.75 million of his own money. Messer reported $430,000 raised and $2.4 million in cash. Rokita posted $459,000 in his 4th Quarter FEC report and has $2.4 million cash on hand. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS – There is little doubt that U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly is one of the more endangered incumbent Democrats in 2018, representing a state that gave President Trump a 19 percent plurality in 2016. So it was intriguing to watch him navigate the government shutdown demolition derby this past week. In a conference call with Indiana reporters Tuesday, Donnelly affirmed his membership in the “Common Sense Caucus” or the “Mod Squad” of moderate bipartisan senators that emerged during the three-day government shutdown. He succinctly summed up what he believes to be his marching orders from Indiana voters: “I was elected for work every day on the behalf of Hoosiers to do my job as a U.S. senator. Keeping the government running is our job. Over the past month I have voted consistently to keep the government open. I approached this job with the common sense we have as Hoosiers and I pledged to bring that to the Senate. That means working with Republicans and with Democrats to get things done and to solve problems.”  So there in a nutshell is Donnelly’s modus operandi, both in office and in the upcoming campaign.
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  • Holcomb responds to SCOTUS ruling on Internet sales tax
    “A lot about our world and economy has changed in the 26 years since our nation’s highest court last ruled on this issue,” Holcomb said Thursday. “With the incredible evolution of technologies and the growth of internet sales, this Supreme Court ruling will help level the playing field between our Hoosier-based companies that operate retail stores and out-of-state companies that sell products and services online in our state. We’re taking a careful look at the ruling to better understand its implications for Indiana.” - Gov. Eric Holcomb, reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to collect sales tax from on-line retailers. Indiana passed a law in 2017 anticipating the rule, with the state expecting $77 million to come in from e-commerce annually.
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  • The First Lady's message
    American First Ladies almost always assume a role and much of it is messaging. For Nancy Reagan, it was “Just say no” to drugs. Betty Ford gave us a compassionate path to those savaged by addiction. Laura Bush was all about literacy. Lady Bird Johnson urged littered and dumpy America to clean up its act.

    And Melania Trump? She remains a mystery to most of us with her Sphinx-like mannerisms. But she is also a messenger, though often we don’t know what to make of her signals. Who can forget Donald Trump’s debate with Hillary Clinton right after we learned from the Access Hollywood audio that women will let rich tycoons do what he wants (“you can grab ‘em by the pussy”)? Mrs. Trump showed up wearing a pink Gucci pussy bow, creating even more of a stir when she shook hands with President Bubba. Perhaps she was trying to tell us it’s really OK to grab ‘em … or maybe it was a rebuke to his cheatin’ heart. We simply don’t know.

    After torrents of President Trump’s snide and vicious tweets, First Lady Trump decided to make bullying her prime issue, saying, “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough. We must treat each other with respect and kindness.” Ya think?

    Then came McAllen, Tex., just hours after President Trump ended immigrant child separation with the stroke of a pen (after weeks saying only Democrats could). The former fashion model showed up wearing a cheap jacket on a muggy day reading “I really don’t care, do U?” as 2,300 kids were incarcerated by the U.S. government nearby and who knows where else.

    The First Lady’s flak told us “there was no hidden message,” but President Trump contradicted, saying his wife was flipping off the news media, saying she “has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!” Show up at the scene of U.S. policy that has truly disturbed folks across the spectrum, and tell us all you really don’t care, even as we learn the U.S. government has lost track of many of this tormented kids. Got it. Classy. -
    Brian A. Howey, publisher
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