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Saturday, June 23, 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.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Perhaps not since the Children’s Crusade of 1212 have adults in power so cruelly exploited children for political ends. Today’s situation on the U.S. border is akin to that disastrous medieval enterprise led by Franco-German zealots in that we once again (centuries later) have on offer a religious rationale for decisive action unmoored from reality and from the very human kindness that Christianity espouses but we too rarely see.  WWJD? Certainly not this. Not the systemic separation of babes from their mothers nor the destruction of families as a matter of state policy. We are admonished ad nauseum that the family is the cornerstone of society – and so it is. Does this not apply to these migrants? Are their human rights not as inalienable as our own?  Jesus counseled all to turn the other cheek, but I doubt he did so in order for us to avert our eyes from a humanitarian crisis of our own government’s making. The Trump Administration has decided to enforce our country’s immigration laws with zero-tolerance. But its enforcement and, indeed, its rhetoric is not unprecedented. These immigration laws are not new; they are established through acts of Congress. Anti-illegal immigration rhetoric was deployed by both the Clinton and Obama administrations merely in more discreet, mellifluous form. (This is not a claim; it is supported by the facts. Anyone wishing to dispute them is welcome to search CSPAN’s archives for the relevant State of the Union passages. Seek and ye shall find.) 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – We all want financial services that propel us toward our goals – a home, an education, a small business, a dignified retirement. But in today’s increasingly complex financial marketplaces, some companies exploit consumers, often denying their victims the opportunity to reach those goals, or even sending them backwards. Abuse and deception in financial marketplaces affects whole communities, not just individuals, and it should not take an advanced degree in finance to avoid the pitfalls, so it makes sense for consumers to have a watchdog. And they did, until recently. From 2011-2017, Hoosiers could depend on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Established in the wake of our still-recent financial collapse, the CFPB went after the banks, student loan servicers, debt collectors and others who took advantage of consumers. It recovered about $12 billion for consumers in principal reductions, cancelled debts or monetary compensation against unfair or deceptive lenders.
  • 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.”  
  • EVANSVILLE – For political junkies, it’s the 1968 Indiana Republican Convention that best exemplifies a sort of golden age for state convention floor fights. The gubernatorial battle on the GOP side that year is well-remembered because it was a hotly contested race between the sitting secretary of state (Edgar Whitcomb) and the sitting speaker of the Indiana House (Otis Bowen), both of whom would eventually become beloved governors (less well-remembered is that future U.S. Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz was a third candidate in that race). It’s also remembered because it marked a sort of statewide coming out party for Keith Bulen, who helped engineer a coalition of large county delegations that backed a successful slate of candidates led by Whitcomb. The 1968 Republican race for governor stands out as much for its place in the significant Bulen mythology that would build over the subsequent three decades as it does for any candidates involved. In truth, it was actually the 1968 Indiana Democratic Party convention that produced a floor fight to be remembered, both because it featured a colossal upset and because it ended with what’s probably the narrowest margin of victory ever seen in a state convention.

  • LaPORTE – Despite some wishful recurring thinking from my brethren on the other side of the aisle about some kind of Bernie vs. Hillary battle for the soul of the Democratic Party supposedly playing out, real insights by those who know organizing Indiana political campaigns realize that’s just not the case across much of Indiana. Unlike Hoosier Republicans, who it appears spent a good deal of energy fighting this past weekend at their convention about competing platform planks and do seem to have some real philosophical splits playing out between social conservatives and the more moderate wing of the GOP, most Hoosier Democrats understand we’re not in any position to have these arcane fights about who is sufficiently purist to pass any kind of label to be a Democrat. With control of the White House, both houses of Congress, the governorship and the legislature in Republican hands, most Democrats I speak with around the state are ready to come to Indianapolis this upcoming weekend with a needed show of support for our newly minted state ticket and to go out from there working to make some gains both in the partisan makeup of the legislature and in picking up another seat or two in Congress.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  Indiana’s Republican Party reminds me of the gay who wants to come out of the closet but can’t quite bring himself to do it. Such was the case a week ago at the state convention in Evansville. The party voted overwhelmingly to include language in its platform that marriage is a commitment between a man and a woman – nothing less. The party defeated an effort by Gov. Eric Holcomb to support a “strong families” stance that says, “We support traditional families with a mother and father, blended families, grandparents, guardians, single parents and all loving adults who successfully raise and nurture children to reach their full potential every day.” Just when one thought Indiana Republicans were changing for the better with Gov. Eric Holcomb replacing Mike Pence, such was not the case when it came to the party platform. It was Pence while governor who embarrassed himself and the state on national television by remaining steadfast that marriage was between a man and a woman. Pence lost all credibility when he kept contending that despite the party’s stance, the state was open to all forms of marriage.
  • 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.
  • SOUTH BEND – With the nation split, angry and fearful even for safety of kids in their schools, with faith in institutions and the rule of law eroding, with the threat of trade wars and real wars from Korea to Iran and with a president relishing divisiveness as a sign of successful disruption, some Americans ask if these are the worst of times. Oft heard is the question: Have you ever seen it this bad? Yes. Worse. We would not have to go back to the Civil War to find a time when the nation was torn more by internal disagreements and filled with more trepidation. Just go back to 1968. That year is getting a lot of attention in TV documentaries and national publications because it now is the 50th anniversary of events then that shook the nation. The split in 1968 was worse because it involved a terrible war with casualties mounting in Vietnam. Escalation was bringing higher casualty counts rather than the victory promised by the Pentagon. Sentiment was growing that it was a no-win war with useless loss of limbs and lives.
  • EVANSVILLE  – As 1,500 delegates and their friends descend on Evansville for this year’s Indiana Republican Convention, it will mark only the second time in modern history that the GOP convention will take place outside of Indianapolis. Here’s what you need to know about the state’s third largest city. Just as Indianapolis emerged in the 1980s from its negative reputation as “India-no-place” or “Naptown,” Evansville is now undergoing its own resurgence. The downtown alone has over $500 million in renovations simultaneously occurring, an unprecedented amount of investment. Simply put, Evansville’s downtown is poised for booming growth with renovations and new construction happening nearly everywhere you look. Some of this progress will present an unattractive annoyance – construction barrels, cleared lots and closed streets are common sights – but it all points to a promising renaissance. Tropicana Evansville, the state’s first land-based casino, opened 75,000 square feet of gaming fun in renovated space. Two new downtown hotels under construction will soon join the recently completed DoubleTree convention hotel, which rests next to the new Stone Family Center for Health Sciences, a collaboration for medical education by the University of Evansville, University of Southern Indiana and Indiana University.
  • KOKOMO – Never in the history of Indiana Republican politics has so much been said by so many about so little. I’m speaking about the proposed changes to the Indiana Republican Party Platform regarding marriage and families that will be voted on by delegates to the Indiana Republican Convention this coming weekend in Evansville.  To hear some vocal critics tell it, you would think that Beelzebub himself drafted the rather innocuous change that drops the Pence era “marriage is between a man and woman” affirmation and replaces it with a sentence that looks amazingly benign. The proposed new wording states, “We support traditional families with a mother and father, blended families, grandparents, guardians, single parents and all loving adults who successfully raise and nurture children to reach their full potential every day.” Now I don’t know about you but that is a sentence that I could support anywhere, anytime. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – When the Indiana Republican and Democratic parties meet this weekend and next, respectively, for biennial state conventions, the main attraction of each will be the selection of candidates for secretary of state, state auditor and state treasurer. Then again, these may only be main attractions in the nominal sense as both parties have unopposed slates and will likely endorse their top-of-the-ticket standard bears by acclimation. But whether we’re talking about the mid-term year conventions that select the three constitutional offices, or the gubernatorial year conventions that select the statutory offices of attorney general and superintendent of public instruction (the latter will happen only once more before being removed from the ballot), uncontested races have become more or less the norm. Exhibit A: I suspect that most readers didn’t realize I omitted the lieutenant governor as a convention-selected candidate, because in practice it has become merely the ratified choice of the primary election-selected gubernatorial candidate (and no longer occupies its own ballot spot in November, to boot). Of course, it’s no secret that modern convention politics lack the drama of a bygone era. In order to generate more enthusiasm around the events, Indiana Democrats now market their conventions as “Big Dem Weekends” and have moved their annual fundraising dinner to the first night to attract donors and others who might not otherwise serve as delegates. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – This weekly column is focused on Indiana’s economy, rarely commenting on national issues. But this time, we must make an exception. Early morning, Friday, June 1, President Trump tweeted, “Looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8:30 this morning.” This most unusual national leader was telling his tweetees that he knew the closely guarded monthly employment data and he liked them. Presidents do get advance looks at all types of key data. Prior to this, presidents kept their mouths shut about economic data until an hour after the official release time. It wasn’t just tradition, it was a policy set down for a wide group of government employees by the Office of Management and Budget to avoid insider trading. But now, this president was wiggling his toes in the stock market bathwater. His words were enough of a favorable hint to send ripples of glee through the regular bathers in those waters where the big boys surf and the little guys drown.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Newly elected Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez doesn’t exactly practice what he preaches. For a number of years, Martinez made a name for himself as part of a drug interdiction task force that cruised interstate highways in Lake County, particularly Interstate 65, which was a major route for drug couriers. Martinez seemingly had an uncanny ability for nabbing those hauling drugs through Lake County. So gifted did Martinez seem, that some came to question his ability to nab drug runners. Many came to believe that Martinez had a connection in Mexico that informed him as to when drugs would be flowing through the county, making it easier for him to nab couriers. And suddenly, Martinez’s party was over. “I was transferred out of the task force for political reasons…” Martinez said. “I couldn’t do something I loved doing and it was done without any regards to the health or safety of the people of Lake County.” Ironically, Martinez was moved out of the interdiction unit by Sheriff John Buncich.
  • 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? 

  • INDIANAPOLIS – We now know the major party candidates for Indiana’s nine congressional seats. Few of us, however, know the diversity/similarity of those districts and the cities and counties they include. To refresh your memory of the geography of Indiana’s congressional districts, go to Stats.Indiana.edu to find a map. The latest (2016) data for Indiana indicate our most populous district, the 5th (northern Marion County, all of Hamilton, Tipton, Madison and Grant counties plus slices of Blackford, Boone and Howard) had 768,400 persons. The least populated district was the 1st (Lake and Porter counties with a slice of LaPorte County including Michigan City) with 712,000. The 6th District (Muncie, Richmond, Columbus and down our eastern border to the Ohio River) had a median age of 40.1 years with 17% 65 or older. The youngest population was in the 7th District (central and southern Marion County) with a median age of 33.8 years and only 11% 65 or older.
  • SOUTH BEND – In almost any field other than politics, experience is valued. Would people facing surgery choose an experienced surgeon or one who never before operated? Would people facing a day in court choose an experienced attorney or one who never before handled a case? Would people facing a flood in their home choose an experienced plumber or a guy down the street who never had done plumbing work but promised to give it a darn good try? Many American voters these days seem to regard experience in politics and government as something negative in evaluating candidates. Even though seeing the difficulties encountered by newcomers unprepared for handling the tasks of government, often with disastrous results, the concept lingers that ignorance of government is smart, that boasting of not being a politician is a keen qualification for political office and that experience in public service is a disqualification. How this plays out in political campaigns today is shown in the race for U.S. Senate in Indiana. Mike Braun, the Republican nominee, served for three years as a state representative, winning elections to the Indiana House in 2014 and 2016 and resigning near the end of 2017 to make his U.S. Senate run. Does Braun cite this experience as he seeks the Senate seat? No. He hides it, stressing instead that he is a political “outsider,” a businessman, not a politician.
  • MERRILLVILLE – I went away over the holiday weekend thinking I would get away from it all—whatever “it all” is. You know. No cell phones. No television. No distractions. Man, was I in for a surprise. We headed to a campsite along the Tippecanoe River. We were there a year ago and the river was beautiful and rolling along at a hefty pace. It was a force. It was a very different looking river this time. A kid could walk across it without getting his head wet or worry about drowning. Motorized boats traversed the river with caution. And because it was so shallow, there was hardly a fisherman casting a lure. And talk about hot. It seemed like the middle of July, not a day in late May. It was too hot to have much fun. Cooking on a hot fire added to the intense heat. And when the sun went down, not much of the heat went with it. Sleeping was a challenge. But, at least there was no communication with the outside world, no word about the daily lies and antics of Donald Trump. Or so I thought. And then Tennessee Trump wandered into our campsite.
  • MUNCIE – Last month I attended a Federal Reserve Bank and Upjohn Institute conference on expanding opportunity within workforce development programs. It isn’t possible to review the breadth of the research or programs I heard about within the confines of this column, but I think many readers will appreciate one issue that raised its ugly head throughout the conference. That is the role of state departments of labor in distorting labor markets and poorly projecting skill needs. These issues offer a great deal to write about, so let me just focus on two matters, education and ‘labor shortages.’ Since 1990, the United States has not created a single net new job for workers who have not been to college. Worse still, wages for non-college attendees are now lower than they were in 2000. So, even at full employment, labor market outcomes for workers who have not been to college are, on average, terribly poor. The situation in Indiana is about the same. We haven’t created a single new job for high school graduates in 20 years, which is as long as we have reliable data. 
  • 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.
  • KOKOMO – It’s the final game of the Indiana State High School Basketball Championship and three seconds left in the game with the Hickory Huskers down by one. The Huskers get the ball at mid-court and Buddy Walker fires a pass to Huskers’ star Jimmy Chitwood who turns toward the basket. Jimmy’s got a Ben Franklin bet on the South Bend Central Bears so he takes two dribbles and passes the ball to Ollie McClellan who promptly clanks one off the rim.  The Huskers lose but Jimmy’s got an extra hundred for his effort. Think sports betting hasn’t caused many a fierce competitor to take a dive for the sake of a buck or two?  Ask the Chicago Black Sox, Pete Rose, Alex Karras, Paul Hornung and Sonny Liston, just to name a few. Many folks who place big sports bets just don’t trust their money to the game going on inside the lines. Let’s just say they are prone to trying to put their thumbs on the scale.  They’ve always done it and they always will. Yes, due to a 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court decision, sports betting is coming to a state near you. Soon!

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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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