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Tuesday, February 25, 2020
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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. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court faces a “political” decision that will be known in the next three weeks: What to do about Attorney General Curtis Hill? Former justice Myra Selby determined a 60-day suspension in light of his 2018 sine die party horndogging, in which he was accused of groping a Democratic legislator and three staffers. She also recommended no automatic return to office. Indiana law requires the AG to be “duly licensed to practice law in Indiana.”  In Selby’s words, “By seeking and accepting the responsibilities of the office of Indiana attorney general, (Hill) undertook to conduct himself both officially and personally in accordance with the highest standards that the citizens of the state of Indiana can expect.” So if the Supremes accept Selby’s recommendation, Hill “likely would be forced to immediately vacate his office because he no longer could practice law,” according to NWI Times reporter Dan Carden. This has never happened since the 1851 Indiana Constitution became the law of the land. And it begs all sorts of questions. Is the alleged behavior by Hill that kind for which any other lawyer in Indiana would be disciplined?
  • BLOOMINGTON — When he was just a young teenage schoolboy, George Washington sat down and copied out 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior.”  Many of these had to do with simple manners. “Cleanse not your teeth with the tablecloth, napkin, fork or knife,” reads Rule 100. Good advice at any time. But the first rule the future president wrote down and followed for the rest of his life was especially notable: “Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.” There are times when I find myself wishing that all of us,  public officials and ordinary citizens alike, would adopt the civil behavior of that particular teenager.  Our politics today too often is strident and polarized. To put it mildly, we do not always show respect to those present, as Washington did, and try to make them comfortable. Often, it’s just the opposite. We live in a polity that seems to reward in-your-face rhetoric and confrontational behavior. Yet civility – respecting the rights and dignity of others – uplifts our common life.
  • SOUTH BEND  — Sputnik calling. Never, a year ago, could I have imagined Russia’s International News Agency Sputnik seeking comment about a contrived conspiracy theory aimed at Mayor Pete. Or that South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg would be the frontrunner in delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Or that the city’s river lights would be ridiculed in a political attack by former Vice President Joe Biden. Or that I would be interviewed by journalists from six foreign countries. Would have been eight if communications with Australia worked and if I agreed to an interview with Sputnik, a spreader of Kremlin propaganda. Well, a lot that couldn’t have been imagined a year ago has happened as former Mayor Buttigieg, then such a long, long long shot for the Democratic nomination, has become a top contender, within a whisker of knocking off Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary. If the Russians want to promote disinformation about Buttigieg, does that mean that Putin’s spreaders of fake news fear a former mayor of South Bend as a threat to win the presidency? Maybe not. But chances are that they aren’t interested now in promoting conspiracy theories about Andrew Yang.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — This week there’s nothing but good news to report about Indiana. Many readers will say this is long overdue. Rightfully, they want to feel good about our state, to read about our achievements and opportunities. Enough with ugly clouds of statistics, let’s celebrate the sunlight. We open with a report from the cheery folks at the Tax Foundation who discovered, in the depths of data from the Bureau of the Census, federal aid was 38% of Indiana’s total state general revenue in FY 2017, the most recent year of data available.  The national figure was a mere 23%. Indiana ranks 10th highest among the 50 states in reliance on federal funding. After years of complaining about not getting our fair share of federal aid to states, we’ve broken into that elite quintile, just behind West Virginia and a fraction ahead of Kentucky. Still, some Hoosiers yearn for those days in the 20th Century when Indiana refused to seek or accept federal funds. But now we’re hep, we’re woke.
  • MUNCIE  — A full eight weeks have passed since the unveiling of New Year’s resolutions. Like most of us, mine lies abandoned, which means I will not receive that free YMCA attendance shirt again this year. This brevity of resolve is an apt metaphor for the dilemma facing many Hoosier communities, and others across the Midwest. Over the course of a year, I am asked to deliver about 50 talks in various places around the state. Most of these presentations are about the common worries of slow-growing places. So, to groups of elected leaders, major employers, and civic-minded folks I explain the findings from decades of research on the topic. Readers of this column will find my prescriptions familiar. People hoping for a growing local economy must first make communities in which people would wish to live. I explain that this means focusing on the quality of local schools, remediating blight, ensuring there are parks and trails, and otherwise removing barriers to new residents. With the exception of school quality, I try not to be too specific about needs. Every community is different and has different priorities. Perhaps the best way to set these priorities is by asking residents in a formal, diligent and inclusive way. In finding remedies to problems, the most important voices are apt to be those who are least often consulted. This fundamental lesson is too often ignored from neighborhood association boards to city hall.
  • KOKOMO  — Indiana is now a gambling mecca. We can play scratch offs, play the numbers, indulge ourselves playing Willy Wonka for money, bet on the ponies and now we can wager on sports. The next expansion of gaming that I’d like to see is political bookmaking. After all, if we can bet on whether the Colts will score on their next drive (bet against it), get a kick blocked (bet on it) or whether we’ll win the Super Bowl next year (called a sucker bet in Vegas), then why can’t we bet on politics? Imagine going to the sports book right now and making a wager on who will emerge as the 5th Congressional District Republican candidate or on how badly Gov. Holcomb will trounce his Democrat opponent. Maybe drop a fiver on whether or not Attorney General Curtis Hill will survive his ethics complaint and be the Republican candidate for AG in 2020. Now that might spark my interest in gambling.

  • WASHINGTON — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders narrowly won the New Hampshire primary in an election that underscores how totally confusing and contradictory the presidential nominating process has become. After the first primary, Democrats appear headed toward a choice between two candidates who aren’t really Democrats. The win marks the second straight contest in which Sanders has won the popular vote though he trails runner-up candidate former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the delegate count.  Sanders and Buttigieg won an equal number of delegates in New Hampshire. Buttigieg won the delegate race in Iowa while losing to Sanders by 6,000 votes. Sanders has consolidated support among progressive voters, but with just 26% of the vote, he won less than half of his total four years ago when he defeated eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. Total votes for the top two moderate candidates exceeded those cast for the top two progressives. Yet Sanders is now the Democratic front-runner. He has a committed base, an effective organization, and an ability to raise tens of millions of dollars from his followers. Buttigieg ran strong again with over 24% of the vote but was likely denied a victory over Sanders as some moderate voters became excited about a different candidate. Amy Klobuchar jumped from single digits to almost 20% of the vote in a matter of three days, keeping her campaign alive but also preventing Buttigieg from moving past Sanders.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Before Sen. Bernie Sanders’ narrow New Hampshire primary victory Tuesday night over Pete Buttigieg, Notre Dame Prof. Robert Schmuhl questioned the viability of the two major political parties in his recently published book, “The Glory and the Burden: The American Presidency from FDR to Trump.“ Is Sanders on his way to what would be the continuation of a new trend in American politics: The individual takeover of the two major parties by the Vermont senator and the current White House inhabitant, President Donald Trump? These twin forces have induced considerable volatility in the world’s oldest republic and super power. If you need an accompanying soundtrack, Donald Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention acceptance speech in Cleveland will suffice: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” Schmuhl, whose son Mike Schmuhl is Pete Buttigieg’s campaign manager, writes of the Vermont socialist’s loss to Hillary Clinton in June 2016: “Sanders in defeat took with him a following of supporters afire with the political passion that one didn’t detect with Clinton backers. When Trump beat Clinton in November, more than a few analysts wondered aloud whether Sanders would have been more appealing to ‘the forgotten men and women’ of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin who put Trump over the top in the Electoral College. “Trump and Sanders exemplify the weakening nature of the major parties as political institutions,” Schmuhl observes. “Most observers date Trump’s association with the GOP only back to his questioning of Obama’s birth certificate of 2011, while Sanders’s official Senate biography identifies him as ‘the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history.’” He then poses this question: “Have the parties actually become obsolete or extraneous in the nominating process of the so-called party standard bearer?”
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — For decades now, ever since Al Gore became synonymous with global warming, Republicans have mocked, ridiculed and sneered at prophesiers of “climate change.” Whether a heat wave or a cold spell, all were similarly dismissed as hocus pocus and Hogwartsian wizardry. But now, as polling suggests the Republican Party may be experiencing a reverse tractor beam pull with young voters turned off by the lack of climate seriousness, a new tune is being sung on Capitol Hill. High-profile congressmen such as Kevin McCarthy, Matt Gaetz and Dan Crenshaw, as well as Indiana’s very own Sen. Mike Braun, names typically heard in the context of their steadfast support for President Donald Trump, are all expressing an appetite for engaging in a discussion about the climate, and it is slowly taking Washington, and the Republican Party, by storm (no pun intended). In fact, Gaetz recently told the Washington Examiner that “climate denial is bad political strategy” and Braun last year co-founded the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus alongside Delaware Democrat Chris Coons. Polling suggests their sense of urgency to act is not misguided. 
  • SOUTH BEND  — After impeachment and Iowa, reelection of President Trump is more likely. If the election were held next Tuesday, he would win again in the Electoral College. Impeachment has helped Trump politically. He has climbed in approval ratings amid the proceedings. The latest Gallup poll finds Trump’s approval rating at 49%, highest since he took office in 2017. The debacle in Iowa Democratic caucus tabulating did more than rob former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg of election night momentum that would have come if there had been vote totals then to reveal his spectacular showing. With no totals at all – not that night, not any until partial results dribbled out late in the afternoon on the following day – the famous first-in-the-nation test with voters brought jokes about Democrats not even able to add up vote totals. Laughter at the bungled process replaced serious analysis of the vote count. There was no count to analyze. The debacle enabled Trump to claim that the Democratic process was “rigged” and that Democrats shouldn’t be trusted with health care if they can’t even count caucus goers.
  • MUNCIE  — It is election season, so we face several more months of claims about the U.S. economy. Predictably, the economy is neither as good as the incumbents profess it to be, nor bad as those running to unseat them assert. The real truth is somewhere in between. Of course, each side will be armed with data, but politicians selectively forget to adjust for inflation or ignore seasonal adjustments that correct distortions in monthly or quarterly data. The economy is a complex affair, and each of us view it through our own lens. This is my assessment as a professional economist who wants better policies from both parties.  We are in the longest expansion in U.S. history, and employment growth continues to do surprisingly well. Every healthy adult who wishes for a job can find one. While wage gains have been modest, over the past year we have seen stronger growth, particularly among the lowest-paid workers. Nationally, the composition of job growth has been good. Only 2.5% of workers are involuntarily working part time. Job growth has been in traditional full-time employment. Even with recent softening of labor markets, particularly in manufacturing, we live in an enviable time to be a worker.  There are many other good aspects to our current economy. Much of what we don’t measure well in our economy seems to be booming.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — Owen Greene lives a quiet life in Southwestern Indiana. He’s learned not to challenge the opinions of his neighbors. Yet, this past week he called me with a question: “Are wages lower in Indiana because our cost of living is lower than in the rest of America?” “No!” I said in my most controlled manner. “Employers like to tell workers that’s the reason wages can be lower here than elsewhere, but that’s not the truth.” “You mean they’re lying?” Owen looked surprised. “They’re not lying, Owen,” I said. “They just accept a popular fiction, an easy story to believe.” “But it makes sense,” Owen insisted. “Workers won’t demand as much in wages, if the cost of living is low.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — Some called it the State of the Union address. But Tuesday night was another episode of Donald Trump’s White House reality show, coming just hours before the U.S. Senate acquitted him in his impeachment trial. He was greeted by Republican Nixonian chants of “four more years” in a Chamber that voted to impeach him less than two months ago. He refused to shake Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand. Pelosi dropped the normal “distinct pleasure and high honor” part of her greeting. After the speech that claimed the historic great economy (which is growing at a modest 2.3%) and portrayed himself as a defender of pre-existing health conditions (his administration is doing the exact opposite in the courts), the speaker tore up his speech. She described it as a “manifesto of mistruths.” But this was a classic made-for-TV moment. “In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We have totally rejected the downsizing,” President Trump said in a speech during which he honored Rush Limbaugh with the Medal of Freedom and reunited a military family. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back.” “He has had existential political threats facing him from the moment he was elected until tomorrow,” Texas-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak told Reuters, referring to the impending acquittal vote on impeachment charges.

  • FORT WAYNE — President Donald Trump has had a good week. The political standards have been lowered, so to phrase it another way, compared to any alternatives, the President has had an excellent week. It is reflected in polling numbers closer to 50s than the 20s.  In addition to the on-going strength of the economy, three things led to this mini-boom for Trump. 1.) The Democrats’ utter and complete failure on impeachment; 2.) His comparatively disciplined State of the Union address and; 3.) It was Democrat chaos. We’ll discuss those in order. Impeachment was cheapened by the Republicans going after President Bill Clinton. Disgust with his personal behavior and repeated abuses of his power, led to an anger that translated into a “gotcha” over his personal behavior and attempts to cover it up. The focus was on the first count of second-degree perjury and, unless you hated Clinton so much that you didn’t care, it was merely a partisan exercise. Republicans knew going in that conviction was impossible.  In 2019-2020, the Democrats, frankly, did something even more misguided. The underlying motives were the same: They hated Trump, they believed he did a host of things wrong that were worse than the alleged Ukrainian abuses of power, and they knew that a Republican Senate was not going to convict.  
  • LaPORTE – Having just returned Tuesday afternoon from an extraordinary trip to Iowa to campaign for Mayor Pete, I’m here to add an addendum to my April 11, 2019, column titled “Taking Seriously Buttigieg’s candidacy” to state in no uncertain terms – Mayor Pete can go the distance. I spent all of this past Saturday and Sunday canvassing for Mayor Pete in neighborhoods in Des Moines (with my new canvas ‘buddy’ South Bend native Claire Gasparetti, who flew in from her home in Charlotte, NC)  and participated as an “observer” for the Buttigieg campaign at a caucus in Johnston, Iowa, about 10 miles outside of Des Moines on Monday night. Mayor Pete’s win in the state in delegate count (which is the true barometer of a ‘win’ in that state) is proof positive that his message of unity and a renewed national purpose is resonating with average voters. It’s not just the organizational and training effort that Mayor Pete’s staff and volunteers put into Iowa that was rewarded with this win, it’s his personal story and his commitment to restoring decency, honor and a sense of ‘belonging’ to the White House that won the day for us there. My door-to-door canvassing with Claire on Saturday and Sunday turned up numerous voters who were ”undecided” at that point but also willing to give us a listen when it came to Pete’s story.  I’m also of the belief that Mayor Pete is probably the only candidate who can stitch together the diverse parts of our party to fashion a willing coalition.
  • SOUTH BEND — Pete was robbed. Not by criminals. Not by conspirators. Not by anyone wishing him harm. But former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was robbed of the momentum that should have come on election night from his impressive showing,  arguably a win, in the Iowa caucuses. Results dribbling in a night later showed that Buttigieg actually led in the first official totals for capturing delegates from Iowa and was battling Sen. Bernie Sanders for the lead in total votes of caucus goers after their two rounds of deliberations. If the same results had been available Monday night, Buttigieg would have been the big story on television coverage of the caucuses. And his spectacular showing in the first test with voters for the presidential candidates would have been in headlines in the papers the following morning. It would have been the big story. Instead the big story was about the debacle of the vote count in Iowa. No vote count was available Monday night. Or Tuesday morning. Nothing until late Tuesday afternoon. Even then, not complete returns.
  • MUNCIE — Indiana’s economic future will be primarily determined by the share of Hoosier adults who graduated from college. If that share remains low, our economy will languish, our incomes will continue to fall further behind the national average and our best-educated citizens will relocate elsewhere. This truth cannot be too often repeated, but it begs other questions, mostly about schooling, and the needs of citizens who do not go to college. For most of us, the bulk of our formal education comes in K-12 schools, rather than college or graduate school. Public schools remain the most common preparation for college and life afterwards. A good K-12 experience can prepare us to learn throughout our life, while giving us the basics of science, mathematics, literature and the arts.  For kids heading to college, rigorous high school programs are important. But, for kids not heading to college, the rigor and substance of K-12 is even more critical. This is the last time those students will receive formal education designed to make them a learned person. That fact is reason enough to question the way Indiana now focuses vocational education. Yet, the General Assembly has legislation before it to align curriculum from primary to college to meet workforce needs. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — Most folks have an intuitive understanding of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). They know GDP measures the current activity of the nation’s legal economy. The change in annual GDP is the definitive statement about our national economic performance. It’s far better than the monthly unemployment rate or the jobs numbers to assess that performance. At the same time, Hoosier politicians seem unaware that GDP figures from the US. Bureau of Economic Analysis are now out there for states and counties. Indiana’s GDP figures don’t tell the same story as we get from those officeholders. Simply put, in the last 20 years (1998 to 2018), Indiana has exceeded the national GDP growth rate only six times. And not once since 2014. We have seen Indiana’s share of national GDP fall from 2.05% to 1.77%. Doesn’t seem like much? That insignificant 0.28% was $57.6 billion in 2018 alone, an amount which would have raised our state GDP by 16%.
  • SOUTH BEND - On this Ground Hog Day, whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow means nothing in weather forecasting. But whether the Iowa caucuses cast a shadow tomorrow over some Democratic presidential candidate will mean a lot: Whether that candidate has six more weeks of viability or is left in a hole. Where does South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg need to finish in Iowa to move on with bright prospects rather than heading to New Hampshire under a cloud? If Buttigieg wins - unlikely in most projections - it would be a big upset, a big boost, putting him clearly in the top tier of contenders for weeks to come. Because there may well be no clear, undisputed winner in the complicated tabulating of caucus results, a consensus second would also be a plus. Third leaves him at least viable, especially with funds to carry on through Super Tuesday. Fourth place? Kind of cloudy, with little realistic chance to win the nomination. Expectations loom large in projecting winners and losers in Iowa. A poll showing Buttigieg with a big lead in Iowa in November, if it had come out last week instead, would have made him the front-runner, and anything but first would have been viewed as a defeat. But more recent polls, as other campaigns hit with all-out campaigning and funding, show Bernie Sanders as the likely winner and Joe Biden, once written off in Iowa, with momentum.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — With closing arguments completed and Senate jurors in Q&A mode in President Trump’s impeachment trial, we find this a cleaved nation, with the We Ask America Poll in Indiana perfectly framing the situation: 47.4% of Hoosiers approve of the president, 47.7% disapprove. A Fox News Poll released Monday has 50% supporting Trump’s impeachment and removal, while 44% oppose. There is little that can be said from the well of the Senate that will change the opinion of these masses, or of the two major political parties, or perhaps even you, dear reader. The Senate is poised to acquit President Trump. The risks facing Republican senators are the recent revelations from Lev Parnas and now former national security advisor John Bolton. Will that give them pause prior to their potentially premature verdict? As U.S. Sen. Mike Braun said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the House impeachment managers “put together a broad, comprehensive case” but he characterized it as “circumstantial in nature.” And then came this nugget when moderator Chuck Todd took a Rex Early axiom (“I don’t have to slam my hand in the car door twice to know that it hurts”) and pressed the freshman Hoosier senator: “This president, as you know, he’s going to take acquittal and think, ‘I can keep doing this.’” Braun responded: “No, I don’t think that. Hopefully it’ll be instructive. I think he’ll put two and two together. In this case, he was taken to the carpet.”
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  • Judy Sheets wins third ballot caucus for Frankfort mayor
    "It’s un-believable! It’s the best day of my life. I love it. It’s something I’ve always wanted and something I’ve always dreamed of. Never thought I was going to get to do it. They can expect me to be out there engaging them in some of these things in the city. I’m going to surround myself with good people and we’re going to move the city forward in a positive way.” - Frankfort Mayor Judy Sheets, who won a third-ballot Republican caucus on Saturday to replace Mayor Chris McBarnes, who resigned last month to take a job in Wyoming. Sheets is the former clerk-treasurer who becomes Frankfort's second female mayor.
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  • Pence, Holcomb, Buttigieg head 2020 HPI Power 50
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY in Indianapolis
    and MARK SCHOEFF JR., 
    in Washington

    As we unveil the 2020 version of the Howey Politics Indiana Power 50 List, Hoosiers appear to be relatively satisfied with their state government, unsure about the federals and specifically President Trump, and are most concerned about health care and the economy.

    These are the latest survey numbers from the We Ask America Poll conducted in early December for the Indiana Manufacturers Association. They accentuate the formulation of our annual Power 50 list headed by Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Eric Holcomb, former South Bend mayor and Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg, and the state’s two Republican senators who will likely sit in judgment (and acquittal) of President Trump in an impeachment trial later this month. 

    As Pence appears to be heading off thinly veiled attempts by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to get him off the 2020 ticket, Hoosiers by 47.4% approve to 47.7% disapprove of President Trump’s job performance. This is consistent with 2019 polling by Ball State University and Morning Consult. On the national right/wrong track, just 37% of registered voters in Indiana feel that the country is headed in the right direction, while a majority, 52%, say that things have gotten off on the wrong track, including 51% of independents and 26% of Republicans. Among female voters, the right/wrong track split is 29%/58%.

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