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Thursday, December 12, 2019
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Thursday, December 5, 2019 2:55 PM

How’s business? “Wonderful,” is the answer you’ll probably get from those who only know the stock market continues to rise. 

How is business in Indiana or in your sector of the economy? That answer is often hard to find. 

  • ANDERSON  — House Speaker Brian Bosma says his goal is simply to ensure a smooth transition. The plan is that his hand-picked successor, State Rep. Todd Huston, will spend much of the coming session as something of an understudy, learning the tricks of the trade during Bosma’s farewell tour.
     “Most of it you see, and most of the members see, is out here at the podium,” Bosma said. “The vast majority of the job is conducted elsewhere, behind the scenes trying to bring policies to a close and people together to move Indiana in the right direction.” The 62-year-old Bosma is Indiana’s longest-serving House speaker. He first  held the reins from 2004 to 2006, before giving them up when Democrats won control of the House of Representatives. He won the job back when Republicans regained power in 2010. The party’s leaders seem to be on board with Bosma’s succession plan. Take this statement from the party chairman, Kyle Hupfer. “During his service in the House, Todd has demonstrated the dedicated, thoughtful and principled leadership needed to serve as speaker,” Hupfer said in a prepared statement. “Brian Bosma leaves behind a historic legacy of accomplishment that will continue with Todd Huston now at the helm.” Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a statement saying that Huston had already proven himself to be a strong leader. “Having a year to learn from Speaker Bosma will prove invaluable,” the governor said.
  • MUNCIE — I deliver my annual forecast later this week, so let’s review where we have come as an economy since the end of the Great Recession. The news is far more dismal than I prefer, but it is wise to know where we are coming from before discussing our future.  The Great Recession was deep and long. It stretched from December 2007 to June 2009, over which time U.S. employment declined by 5.2%. Indiana saw a deeper decline, with job losses accounting for 7.4% of our workers. Indiana actually fared better than should’ve been expected over this time. About half of recession losses to production occurred in consumer durable and business plant and equipment. As the nation’s most manufacturing-intensive state, we had to expect much higher job losses than a state like Florida, Virginia or California. We did, but the unemployment rate peaked well beneath the 1982 level, which is much lower than anticipated.  In 2011, I co-authored a study comparing Michigan and Indiana through the Great Recession. At its peak, I reported the unemployment rate in Michigan was a full 4.5% higher. Much of the difference was attributable to plant closures that were more concentrated in Michigan than in Indiana. I believe Indiana’s tax reforms, focus on fiscal solvency and more predictable business environment helped us weather the Great Recession.  This is good news so far, but states and regions with more volatile business sectors experience deeper recessions and more robust recoveries. So, from 2009 to today, Indiana should have enjoyed a far more robust economic recovery.
  • SOUTH BEND – In their frequent emails to me, Mayor Pete comes across as more confident, more hopeful, than Joe Biden. The former vice president, though he predicts ultimate victory, tells me often that he is worried, fearful of falling behind, and really needs help. Just consider some messages their campaigns sent to me as the end of November fund-raising approached. From Buttigieg: “Hey Jack, The more people get to know Pete, the more people understand that he is the leader we need. “We know that in order to keep growing our support, we have to reach as many voters as possible. We will continue to build our teams on the ground  –  and we know that television is still a great way to deliver key information about Pete’s policies to voters in a fast and effective way. “Our latest TV ad is up on the airwaves today. It shows Pete talking about one of the issues we know is most important to voters in 2020, education and affordability.” “Watch our new television ad and chip in . . . ”From Biden: “Judith, a poll from the Des Moines Register shows us tied for third in Iowa. And if we don’t hit our end-of-month goal, we risk not having the resources to persuade more voters to support Joe. So don’t delete this email. Don’t get distracted checking social media. And please chip in $5 right away!” Why does Joe Biden call me “Judith?” Surely, he knows better. And don’t call me Shirley.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  —  As Gaul was to Caesar, so too is personal income divided into three parts by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). This is important because political leaders have latched onto per capita personal income (PCPI) as a favorite measure of economic well-being. They are wrong, but it takes generations for old ideas and politicians to be retired.   The first and biggest part of Hoosier personal income is what we earn as workers. That’s 64.3% for us (15th among the 50 states), slightly higher than the nation’s 62.6% in 2018. Both figures are down from their 2008 levels; about two percentage points nationwide and 1.5 points in our Hoosier Holyland. The second part of personal income is composed of what we “earn” on our investments: Dividends, interest, and rent. Note: Neither the growth of your holdings in the stock market nor the increased value of your house is included.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – To use a well-worn-political phrase, is timing is everything. That may have prompted the latest change of the Republican guard at the Indiana Statehouse this past week where we saw State Rep. Todd Huston of Fishers take the House speaker’s gavel by acclamation from one of the strongest speakers in Hoosier history when Brian Bosma of Indianapolis decided to stand down.  Bosma spent two non-consecutive terms with the gavel in what is considered by many as the most powerful Statehouse office due to the Indiana’s constitutionally weak governorship, where a veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote. It follows a similar transition in the Indiana Senate a year ago, when Rod Bray of Martinsville took the helm from Senate President Pro Tem David Long of Fort Wayne, while on the fiscal side State Sen. Ryan Mishler of Bremen and Travis Holdman of Markel took the reins from Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley and Budget Chairman Brandt Hershman. Informed and reliable sources tell me that House Ways & Means Chairman Tim Brown will seek reelection in 2020 after surviving critical injuries in a 2018 motorcycle accident at the Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan. Huston served as co-chair of that influential, budget-writing committee during the 2019 biennial session.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is having a moment. Amid comparisons to former President Barack Obama and an impressive on-the-ground grassroots organization, he has firmly supplanted the septuagenarian crowd to cement his status in the top tier of the Democratic race for president. Of course, he’s had several of these “moments” in the past several months.Each saw his stock rapidly rise and then fall back down to Earth. But no matter how many “moments” come his way between now and the Iowa caucuses, he still faces the same obstacle on his path to the nomination that he has faced all along. And, no, it’s not his work for global consulting firm McKinsey and Company, or his tenure as mayor of South Bend, or the fact that he is in a same-sex marriage — although all of those have given Democratic primary voters pause to some degree in polls and focus groups. His actual fatal flaw is the same fatal flaw that felled Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008 and again in 2016: An inability to even feign empathy.

  • INDIANAPOLIS - With the House readying an impeachment vote for President Trump and Watergate analogies everywhere, it seems worthwhile to revisit a piece I wrote in August 2018. In it, I used historical data to show that in the modern era, national waves which favor the Democratic Party don't typically wash ashore in Indiana. But that came with an important caveat: "...[R]ecent Democratic waves that upended Washington – with the exception of the Watergate-fueled wave in 1974 – haven’t translated to Indianapolis." This raises the question: If the Trump impeachment proceedings play out like the Nixon proceedings, what does history tell us to expect in 2020? Well, the past can be a good guide for understanding where the present might be taking us, but only in a probabilistic sense. We can't use it to predict what's going to happen in 2020, but we can take a closer look at 1974 to understand exactly how the impeachment proceedings and resignation of Nixon impacted Indiana elections. That might tell us how likely we are to be heading towards a similar scenario, or at least what it would take to come close to recreating it here. We'll start with the big picture, and then drill down into individual races. Unlike 2020, 1974 was a midterm election year. We know that midterms tend to be bad for the party that controls the White House (especially in second terms, as 1974 was). Usually, the president's party loses seats in Congress, and it's not a coincidence that five of the seven national waves we've seen in the past 50 years have been in midterm election years (1974, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2010).For various reasons, presidential election years are less susceptible to waves, and tend to happen only when there is an overwhelming sense that America is headed in the wrong direction (1980 and 2008). 

  • When discussing a candidate who lost, people often blame it on negative ads. When a candidate wins, commentators credit a fresh face, new ideas and a hopeful future. Unless they don’t like the candidate; then they blame it on negative ads. 

    The point is this: People say they don’t like negative ads, but they are influenced by them. They are also the ads that people tend to remember the most.  

  • The world’s largest concentration-camp network, and the most technologically advanced effort at cultural genocide, is run by the Chinese Communist Party.

    You may know them better as LeBron’s retirement-fund managers. 

  • (Note: Publisher Brian Howey asked us to publish this article written in December of 1973 by his father, veteran journalist Jack Howey, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 93.

    A helicopter dipped and hovered alongside the monorail tracks at Disney World at Orlando, Fla., when my wife and children, Brian and Sara, arrived there two weeks ago yesterday for a convention of the Associated Press Managing Editors Assn. (APME).

  • WASHINGTON, D.C. - After two weeks of public impeachment hearings in the House, there is now a distinct difference between Vice President Mike Pence and his two predecessors who most recently served alongside a president threatened with removal from office by Congress. Vice President Gerald Ford was not implicated in the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up that forced President Richard Nixon to resign before the House could take an impeachment vote in 1974. Vice President Al Gore had nothing to do with President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky that was the basis for Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.
  • FORT WAYNE – In a year when introducing yourself as an incumbent mayor in many Hoosier cities was akin to being known as the carrier of a transferable, incurable disease, Mayor Tom Henry romped to a fourth consecutive victory with over 60% against a relatively strong candidate (e.g. smart, organized, very well-funded).  It is the sixth straight Democrat triumph in the Fort Wayne’s mayoral race. In other words, there has not been a Republican mayor in the 21st Century.  The only two Republicans to have won in the last 50 years (since Harold Zeis in 1967) – one-term Robert Armstrong in 1975 and Paul Helmke in 1987 – were greatly aided by legal problems of the incumbent Democrats. Helmke won three times, and only left office in 1999 to seek and win the Republican nomination for the United States Senate. Yet some Republicans continue to peddle the falsehood that Fort Wayne is a Republican city. It is not.
  • SOUTH BEND – National politics, usually of little significance in city elections, was an important factor as James Mueller won the mayoral race in South Bend. It was reflected in the totals in these two examples: Mueller, the choice of Mayor Pete Buttigieg to be his successor, won with 63% of the vote, impressive, but short of the 80% by which Mayor Pete won reelection in 2015. Still, Mueller got more votes this time than Mayor Pete did in that reelection landslide. Election night totals showed Mueller, the Democratic nominee, defeating Republican Sean Haas by 9,261 to 5,341. Four years ago, it was Buttigieg over Republican Kelly Jones by 8,515 to 2,074.
  • BLOOMINGTON  – One of the not-so-small gifts of living in a representative democracy is that you can’t accomplish things alone. Whether you’re trying to get a stop sign put up on a dangerous corner or to change U.S. policy on greenhouse gas emissions, you have to reach out to others. And learning how to persuade, motivate, and involve them – learning the skills of active citizenship, in other words – makes this a stronger, more resilient country. So I want to make a case for building and using those skills by tackling the issues right in front of us. We all live in communities that we know better than anyone who doesn’t live there,  including the policy makers who every day make decisions on larger issues that affect our lives there. Who better than those who live in a particular community to step up, identify its problems, and then work to solve them?
  • INDIANAPOLIS — The moving van pulls away leaving new people and their strange possessions next door. There is something different about them and the things they own. Something strange that suggests they are not quite like us, long-time residents of this place. Where do those strangers come from? We’re fortunate the U.S. Bureau of the Census has studied that question concerning persons who were one year of age and older in 2018. They found 84.9% of Hoosiers were folks who lived in the same house as they did in 2017. But that’s below the national average of 86%, and we rank 32nd among the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia). Hoosiers are less homebodies than other residents of this nation? Where did those strangers come from? Take heart! Indiana ranks 10th in the nation (12.4%) in terms of persons who moved within the same state in the last year. Those strangers may be from just around the corner, or as far away at Angola, Aurora, Mt. Vernon or Whiting. Thus, they’re not really strangers. Take them a welcoming casserole. Make sure you exchange cell phone numbers and don’t hesitate to give them your email address.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — It’s that time of year again. With as many as four toss-up contests set to determine which party controls the U.S. Senate come January 2021, another 23 toss-ups poised to crown the next speaker of the House, and the possible impeachment of the president of the United States on the line, it might as well be Christmas for the no-accountability caucus of coastal political pundits and prognosticators who commentate with speculative certainty about too-close-to-call races and issues. But while the Beltway intelligentsia attempts to draw black and white conclusions about what will happen, the data is hardly black and white. In fact, in what I call Margin of Error America, our political future is at best itself a toss-up, giving the pundit class license to write a new chapter of conventional wisdom about what’s to come by the hour and leaving our politics without a clear mandate for moving forward.
  • SOUTH BEND – Many Republicans, and some independents and moderate Democrats, could face a real dilemma in the 2020 presidential election. Conservative columnist and commentator David Brooks recently put it this way: “If the general election campaign turns out to be Trump vs. Warren, what the heck are we supposed to do?” Brooks is indeed a conservative but no supporter of President Trump, which makes sense. Trump is no conservative. He is a big-spending, big-government, big deficit (now at $1 trillion) president constantly seeking to expand, not limit, presidential powers. But many conservatives overlook that and his character flaws because of his judicial appointments and stands on social issues. It’s far from certain that it will be President Trump vs. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

  • MUNCIE — I attended my first college reunion last weekend. It was a charming event, attended by well over half of the living graduates of my class at a small military college in Virginia. The weekend was even more special because my oldest son is undergoing the rigors of freshman year at the same school. The occasion allowed me to share a couple of meals with him and other young men and women in his class. That led me to think about these young people, this reunion and Veterans Day. Most of my 212 classmates spent several years in military service. Two of us advanced to general officer ranks and the four of us who roomed together my senior year all retired from the Army, Navy, or Air Force. What struck me about the weekend was how many of my classmates have sons or daughters following us into uniform. Among this group, the fact that both my college-aged children, a daughter and a son, are pursuing military careers was hardly exceptional. More than half the classmates with whom I spoke had kids in uniform.  It is no secret that military service in the U.S. has long been a family business.

  • INDIANAPOLIS — Watch out!” Sorethroat said. “They’re coming back and, if the past is prologue to the future, we’re in danger.” He and I were in the parking garage opposite the Statehouse. As usual, this long-time state employee was smoking. In addition, he was fuming. “The Indiana General Assembly,” he continued, “will gather for Organization Day on Nov. 19. Ha, it’s more like disembowelment day.” “Why do you say that?” I asked. “It’s when they remove whatever guts a senator or representative may have,” he answered. “You know, most of them are really good people who want to do what’s best for Hoosiers. But the leadership wants them to be gutless followers of the party line. “’Surplus over Service,’ that’s the mantra they have to chant,” he declared.

  •  INDIANAPOLIS - Three years ago, Curtis Hill was a Republican rising star, capturing the nomination for attorney general in a spirited convention floor fight, then leading the ticket that November in votes. He became a rare African-American Republican, working in a building where the rest of his party of white. Hill gave a racial component to Republican politics that had seen females win the constitutional offices, save governor, when Holcomb edged out U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks for the nomination following Gov. Mike Pence leaving his nomination to join Donald Trump’s presidential ticket. But this past week, Hill was fighting for his political career and his law license. His reputation has taken a beating. He faced a Supreme Court disciplinary hearing over allegations of sexual harassment and groping at a 2018 sine die party. The ensuing headlines were a politician’s nightmare. There was a parade of 26 witnesses, including Democrat State Rep. Mara Candaleria Reardon, four Republican legislative staffers, and an Elkhart County employee of Hill’s when he was prosecutor there, who testified under oath that her boss sought sex, saying, “We need to ---- because it would be hot.” Hill was described as a “creeper” who was “grabbing butt” and sliding his hands down Reardon’s backless dress. The “Me too” era passed the Indiana Statehouse over the past couple of years with no official taking a fall. That Hill’s alleged conduct came after movie moguls, media anchors and U.S. senators had been swept from power was an indicator of being tone deaf.
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  • The Azar, Verma feud festers
    "The federal agency I lead, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is taking swift action to implement it." - Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Seema Verma, in  Chicago Tribune op-ed. That same day, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar went on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fix News — one of President  Trump’s favorite TV shows — and claimed credit for driving the same initiative. “POTUS and I envision a healthcare system with patients in the center,” Azar tweeted from the Fox News set. “We’re fighting powerful interests to deliver honesty and transparency in healthcare.” The feud between these two Hoosiers who control more than $1 trillion in annual federal spending has transfixed The White House West wing and Washington. President Trump has asked Vice President Mike Pence to quell the Azar/Veerma feud.
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  • Into the impeachment vortex ...
    Here we go. Where America ends up in early 2020 after the fourth presidential impeachment that got underway this week is anyone's guess. 

    When I wrote the Sept. 19 HPI cover story - "The Double Dog Impeachment Dare"  - the Ukraine quid pro quo scenario was just beginning, becoming a full congressional/media vortex suck. Regular Hoosiers I know aren't paying much attention and are polarized by President Trump.

    We'll restate past thoughts on these alleged high crimes and misdemeanors: 1. Impeachments are messy and unpredictable. 2. Impeachment is an American tragedy. 3. Impeachment will result in unintended consequences. 4. Hoosiers are prepared to render a verdict on President Trump at the ballot box next November. 5. If we get into a mode where we're impeaching an American president every 20 years, the fragile American experiment will be doomed. 
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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