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Tuesday, April 24, 2018
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Wednesday, July 31, 2013 3:35 PM
LOGANSPORT - It is more than slightly ironic that the Indiana State Board of Education is hiring its own consultant to do what it could be doing collaboratively with its state school superintendent – improve education.

It would be nice if board members and a state school superintendent from different parties could be on the same page when it comes to the importance of education in this state, but state education reform has become so politicized that politics takes priority. The irony of the current Tony Bennett controversy involving a grade change for Christel House, the charter school funded by one of Bennett’s biggest campaign contributors, represents one of the worst kinds of academic fraud there is. Forget the NCAA hammering some college for giving a football player a D- in a math class he should have failed. What Bennett and his staff did for Christel House pales in comparison. He violated a public trust for the sake of a private school run by a campaign contributor.

Think about this for a minute: If the Indiana State Board of Education had really been holding Bennett accountable like it is holding Glenda Ritz accountable now, the Christel House controversy may never have happened in the first place. But the board didn’t.
  • FORT WAYNE – On Sunday evening, all three GOP Senate hopefuls accomplished the first goal of a successful candidate: Don’t say something stupid that makes the debate relevant. Debates are something the media likes, not the candidates. WISH-TV has a long and distinguished news history in this state. WANE-TV in Fort Wayne has been a junior partner with WISH since it became WANE in the early 1950s, and has remained so, even as Nexstar and Sinclair take over the television world. There are some big differences between WANE and WISH however, starting with the fact that WANE is a CBS affiliate. WANE is and has been the dominant station in our market.  The chosen time for the debate didn’t matter much to WISH, but it preempted “60 Minutes” in Fort Wayne (not that I care but obviously some people do). What did astound me, given that decision, was the choice of moderators.  WANE-TV has at least six people who would have been superior panelists to those selected. Heather Herron, Brett Thomas, Terra Brantley, Alyssa Ivanson, Rod Hissong, and Pat Hoffman each do great work, and yet not one was utilized.  Who made such a decision?
  • 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.
  • BLOOMINGTON – Resolving the conflicts dividing our country will require a devotion to facts, dialogue and compromise. In a world riven by tension, there’s one skill that stands above all others: The ability to resolve conflict. It is the paramount challenge of our time. There are so many divisions that fracture our communities, states and nations that the ability to create common ground — to bring people together rather than drive them apart — has become an indispensable political need. I’ve seen first-hand its importance in Congress as part of a legislative process that, at least at the time, was mostly focused on resolving differences; and as co-chair of two key national committees that were constituted along partisan lines, the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group. Here’s what I’ve learned: First, to resolve conflict you have to be committed to doing just that. When the 9/11 Commission met — at a time when many people just wanted to assign blame for the attacks on our country — we were often encouraged to take a confrontational approach by issuing hundreds of subpoenas that would force officials to testify and to turn over documents.
  • SOUTH BEND – Todd Young is the other senator from Indiana. NOT the one featured in all those TV ads with contradictory portrayal of either awful or wonderful. Nor is he cited nationally as facing the toughest Senate race in the nation –  costly, close and critical. Sen. Joe Donnelly, the Democratic incumbent seeking reelection, gets all that attention. Sen. Todd Young, the Republican who defeated Evan Bayh for the Senate in 2016, has four more years before he again faces the hot lights of election focus. But that doesn’t mean that Young isn’t making a mark in the Senate. He is. Quietly. Working on legislation. Working also on bipartisanship rather than attention-getting partisan bluster to win time on cable news shows. “I’m an independent-minded, center-right conservative Republican,” Young says. “But I went to Washington to get things done. Typically, that requires developing strong relationships with your Democratic colleagues.” He is co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Several readers contend this column expresses negativism about Indiana. They tell me to find something good to say about the state. That’s easy: Indiana’s borders have been Sanforized; they show no signs of shrinking. A different group of complaining readers chide me for using too many numbers. Somehow these readers never learned numbers represent people and their activities, real people. TV news (and too many newspaper articles) feature storybook people whose lives are supposed to make it possible for us to understand complex problems. This approach assumes we can’t grasp the human context without individuals as stand-ins for vast numbers of diverse people. Governments do a fine job spinning the news using carefully selected facts. One would believe Indiana is carpeted with blue and yellow spring flowers, fortuitously the state colors. Lately, however, the state has been covered with potholes.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  While the race for Lake County sheriff is dominating the Democratic primary, it isn’t the only campaign of interest. Also drawing attention is the contest for county clerk, where two veteran and aging politicians are at odds. Incumbent Clerk Mike Brown can’t run again because of term limitations. He is running for sheriff and has the support of Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Without an incumbent, former Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo has filed for clerk. He retired from the bench in 2010. Yes, this is the same Lorenzo Arredondo who was the Democratic candidate for state attorney general in 2016.
  • 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. 

  • FORT WAYNE – I’m not sure if it has leaked out yet, but Todd Rokita has officially changed his name on the Indiana primary ballot to Donald T. R. Trump. Not to be outdone, Mike Braun switched his to Donald Brawny Trump. Luke Messer may soon follow, possibly switching to Luke Usually Trump. He will decide before the final week of the primary. In Indiana, the Republican Senate candidates are clearly wagering that Republicans will rally around the President for at least another 30 days. They will worry about swing voters after the primary. At this point, only the video war matters unless it is very close. If it depends upon the ground war in a very close race, it is likely Rokita will win. If the vote is extremely low, Rokita will likely win. Almost universally, the small sample polls show Rokita closely battling undecided for the lead, with Braun his closest threat. Both factors may still be just “name identification” results, which is the major reason the race is so fluid. The other reason is a great fear that the “undecided” is actually an “I don’t care” polling result. However, if Rokita cannot keep up in advertising dollars with Braun or even Messer, this race could shift dramatically, and rapidly.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – This week, Rex Early and I endorsed Congressman Todd Rokita for the U.S. Senate seat held currently by Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly. It was an honor to serve with Rex as the Trump-Pence Indiana 2016 campaign chairman and vice chairman.  As Rex and I campaigned around the state for Donald Trump in 2016, we met many Hoosiers who said they hadn’t voted for years or decades or ever because they didn’t trust Washington and were waiting for someone like Donald Trump. Our challenge now is to keep those folks engaged and encourage them to vote for like-minded candidates for Congress in 2018. For the U.S. Senate seat, that person is Congressman Rokita. There are plenty of reasons to support Todd, from his great work as Indiana’s Secretary of State, to his many accomplishments in Congress, to his no-nonsense approach to help Make America Great Again!  For Rex and me, the primary reason is to again help our president. Todd proved to us two years ago that he was for President Trump and has proven ever since that we can trust him to stand with our president even when things are tough.
  • BLOOMINGTON - For the most part, we Americans value expertise. We want our physicians to possess knowledge and experience. We want our lawyers to know the law inside out. We want our clergymen, our engineers, our farmers to bring the kind of proficiency and skill to their work that comes only with familiarity and practice.  So, here’s a question: Why is it that the more expertise politicians' gain in their field, the more we deride them? I’ve been involved in politics, in one way or another, for most of my life. That makes me a politician. And I’ve had more than a few people refuse to shake my hand because they believed that might somehow taint them. Many Americans think politicians are looking out for themselves, beholden to special interests and party leaders, incapable of working for the common good. Politicians may disappoint us, frustrate us or even anger us. They certainly make mistakes. But here’s the thing:  We cannot solve our problems at any level — local, state or federal — without skilled politicians. They’re indispensable to the system.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There are some fairly uneducated voters in Indiana. Actually, it would be more accurate to call them dumb. And some of them make their homes in Northwest Indiana. For instance, let’s take a look at last Saturday at a meeting of Indivisible NWI - a grassroots, all-volunteer citizens group in Indiana’s 1st Congressional District. Speaking that night was U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, who is known by many as the “Mayor of Northwest Indiana.” The 30 or so in attendance at the Iron Workers Local 396 hall in Portage asked a host of questions about firearms, the South Shore Railroad extension and funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which President Donald Trump has cut from $300 million to $30 million. But there was one question that drew a chuckle from the crowd – and Visclosky as well. Actually, there should have been a few belly-laughs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It’s exciting when a Hoosier city is chosen as number one on a list of favorable attributes. Clearly, being number one in pollution or crime would not be an honor. But to be named “the best affordable small town where you’d actually want to live” is a distinction, a recognition, a tribute of great value. Logansport received that honor just last month from realtor.com, an online publication of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Hoosiers know Logansport as the place where the Eel River enters the Wabash. We recall Logansport as a longtime major rail junction, as the county seat of Cass County, and as a key city on the roads from Fort Wayne to Lafayette and Kokomo to Michigan City. We also know Logansport as home to Tony Hinkle, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the State Psychiatric Hospital. 
  • FORT WAYNE - Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to not seek re-election does not signal a political tsunami is about to engulf Republicans but it certainly suggests he doesn’t see things getting easier post-election. In other words, even if the Republicans continue control, the Senate is likely to be nearly 50-50 and the House Republican with few votes to spare.  Paul lived through that once already, when he was chief of staff to then U.S. Rep. Sam Brownback for the first two terms after the Republicans won control in the 1994 elections. In 1996 our margin narrowed, and Paul saw how we could leverage the leadership every day. On the other hand, we were a comparatively disciplined conservative group who took some wins to keep moving forward.  Many of today’s dissidents are frequently more inclined to practice scorched earth policies. Currently the speaker can lose nearly 30 Republicans most days and still prevail. If that becomes seven or less, as it was in the 106th and 107th Congresses, will the current group be able to practice any internal order?  In other words, if you are the Speaker, the only question isn’t whether a tsunami is coming or even whether the Republicans lose control. It is whether it is a position worth having even if the Republicans retain control.     

  • INDIANAPOLIS  – It will surprise no semi-sentient being that the state of our politics is, well, unwell.  Abroad, the seven-decade run of Pax Americana is ending with tensions between global rivals over territory, trade and fundamental governing philosophies dangerously rising. Nationally, the conversation – such as it is at 140 characters – can be summed up as, “You don’t think like me, so you suck, etc., etc.,” and a culture of seemingly helpless victimhood pervades. Closer to home, elected state officials can’t run a legislative session to successful conclusion without getting in their own way and at least one aspirant to higher office is worried about political bias from debate sponsors and moderators to the point of self-exclusion.  In the immortal words of Oliver Hardy, once he began speaking words on film, “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us in.” Only the “you” is actually “we” (usually so in the Laurel & Hardy franchise) and WE need to do something about it before the bones of our body politic fracture further.   Many trends converged to bring our politics to this point, but as a writer who simply must insist that words have meaning, one clearly is the hyperventilating use of hyperbole in our political discourse. Another is the rise of social media which, when it comes to politics, is downright anti-social. Finally, another trend is the increasing bias in political journalism, which in the Trump Era seems to have simultaneously accelerated and degraded to the point of farce. 
  • FORT WAYNE – Mike Braun may have won this primary with his “cardboard twins” television ad. If he does win, it is likely to go down as one of the best ads in Indiana political history. I say if, because there is still a month to go for the others to pull it out or Braun to blow it. But here are some of the reasons it is a terrific ad, perfect for these times.  1.) The cardboard twins concept. Congressmen Rokita and Messer do look a lot alike. Both are congressmen. They went to Wabash College together. Their voting records are nearly identical. Both have run for office many times. They are both ambitious. There are many more examples, but you get the point. 2.) The cardboard captures the image of Washington politicians. Most voters believe that everyone in Washington is about the same, that the Establishment (i.e. anyone who governs) practices groupthink as soon as they drink the water, and that all they do is spin things to win elections.    
  • 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.
  • SOUTH BEND - When Bobby Kennedy came to South Bend on Dyngus Day 50 years ago, a highlight was his appearance at the packed West Side Democratic & Civic Club in the heart of a large, vote-vital Polish-American area. But that wasn’t the only highlight of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s South Bend campaigning in 1968. Kennedy faced a tough, nationally-watched contest, a must-win test for him. Could he capture the Kennedy “magic,” the charisma of President John F. Kennedy, his slain brother? Could he win in a Midwest state like Indiana? Could he defeat another anti-war candidate, Sen. Gene McCarthy, who had a head start in seeking the presidential nomination? Could he also in a three-candidate race defeat Indiana Gov. Roger Branigin, a stand-in for Hubert Humphrey endorsed by the state Democratic organization and The Indianapolis Star, both then powerful politically? In stories ever since about Dyngus Day, the Monday-after-Easter event that spreads now far beyond Polish-American neighborhoods, accounts focus on Kennedy swaying the crowd at the West Side Club. He spoke greetings in Polish, sang a Polish song, hailed Revolutionary War contributions of Polish patriots and even brought along a genuine Polish prince.
  • MERRILLVILLE – If Betty Dominguez wins the Democratic nomination for Lake County sheriff, she has Sheriff Oscar Martinez to thank. Martinez is helping Dominguez make a name for herself. But, hey, that’s how it works in Lake County. Dominguez stunned the Democratic Party when she filed for sheriff at the 11th hour. She doesn’t have a law enforcement background, but she is married to former Sheriff Roy Dominguez, who many thought would run himself. While few are giving Dominguez much of a chance of winning, they think her candidacy will split the Hispanic vote and help someone like recently retired Schererville Police Chief David Dowling win the nomination. One has to think Martinez is spending a good deal of time thinking about Dominguez. For one, it’s impossible to drive around the county and not see a full-color billboard with the Dominguez name emblazoned across the front. One easily could think the billboard was promoting Roy Dominguez, who was known to use the large lettering when he was running.
  • MERIDIAN HILLS - A few weeks ago, I wrote about a bill (HB 1005) to force township consolidation. That bill never got a hearing by the Indiana House. Despite support from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, it died, as did many other good and bad bills. The governor wants the senators and the representatives back for a command performance. Yet, most Hoosiers see little merit in reassembling this ensemble unless they return motivated to serve the interests of Hoosiers rather than lobbyists. In addition, they should be tested to make sure they are not LUI (legislating under the influence of alcohol or drugs). Even if most members of our General Assembly are good, sensible and thoughtful persons, they do not have the collective courage to overturn generations of subservience to the past. Townships are a remnant of the past. I am not against townships nor am I opposed to retaining elements of the past. However, the arbitrary requirement of consolidating those with fewer than 1,200 persons seems senseless. 
  • 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.
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  • Former Sen. Coburn endorses Mike Braun
    "I am pleased to support and endorse Mike Braun, Indiana Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Like myself, Mike is a social & fiscal conservative who supports term limits. As a successful businessman, Mike brings the very knowledge and background that is badly needed in our U.S. Senate today. Mike's opposition to deficit spending and pork barrel projects together with his proven leadership abilities will make him a highly effective U.S. Senator." - Former Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, endorsing Mike Braun for the U.S. Senate Republican nomination. Braun said, "I'm beyond honored to have earned the support of one of my idols in the U.S. Senate, Tom Coburn.”
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  • A changing tide on medicinal marijuana
    CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has changed his mind on medical marijuana. He writes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a hardliner against pot, saying, “I feel obligated to share the results of my five-year-long investigation into the medical benefits of the cannabis plant. Before I started this worldwide, in-depth investigation, I was not particularly impressed by the results of medical marijuana research, but a few years later, as I started to dedicate time with patients and scientists in various countries, I came to a different conclusion.”

    And that conclusion? “Not only can cannabis work for a variety of conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and pain, sometimes, it is the only thing that works. I changed my mind, and I am certain you can, as well. It is time for safe and regulated medical marijuana to be made available nationally. I realize this is an unconventional way to reach you, but your office declined numerous requests for an interview, and as a journalist, a doctor and a citizen, I felt it imperative to make sure you had access to our findings.”

    Gupta’s special report on “Weed 4: Pot vs. Pill” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday. It comes as James Higdon writes about “Legal Marijuana’s Big Moment” coming when former Republican House Speaker John Boehner “flipped” on the topic and became an adviser to a medicinal marijuana group. As the late John Lennon might have put it, strange days, indeed. - Brian A. Howey, publisher

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